by “URN My Power”
Valorie was in a funk, and for once, Maggie couldn’t bring her out of it. With voluntary participation from Charlie, Scheris, Annemarie and Hannity, they’d recorded the energy given off by healing spells in the hope that the information could lead to the invention of a healing machine. The recordings were different every time. It certainly seemed as though every mage had a different signature, every patient had different energies, and every kind of injury required a different interaction between the two for healing to take place. All in all, the complications were frustrating to the twins. Maggie and Felice cleaned the lab when they noticed that Valorie had nodded off. No matter how much she wanted to join her sister, however, Maggie knew that some things had to take priority. Besides, she’d been having odd dreams lately.
Valorie awoke with a startled cry, mumbling about a hand reaching out for her. Felice and Maggie were quickly at her side to comfort her.
“Something is amiss?” Clement called from above, his boots on the stairs leading to the basement barely touching longer than a tap dancer’s heels.
“The dream again. I’ve been having the same one.” Maggie said. Clement looked with pity on the twins, then drew them into his arms for comfort. Felice announced she was going to be helping Queen Gwendolyn and went upstairs. Clement led the twins to his own room, where he offered the sort of comfort a man could offer a woman when mere cuddling was insufficient. Half an hour later, all were sleeping dreamlessly.
Camber inched along the front of the couch, his little fingers holding tightly to the cushion seams. Amelie watched enchantedly through the lens of her camera. He reached out his hand to grab hold of the easy chair, but it wasn’t quite close enough. With a frustrated grunt, he let go of the couch and took two unaided steps before flopping half on the chair. He grunted and pulled himself back up, panting.
“Good job, baby!” Amelie cheered. Camber turned his head and smiled.
“Mama mama mama!” he babbled, inching along the chair in her direction. She set the camera down, pointed in his general direction, and placed herself two tantalizing steps away from the chair’s support, arms out. He toddled into her arms and she caught him before he could fall. She hugged him against her and kissed him repeatedly while he laughed happily. She used a little magic to make a shiny bauble float just above head-level for him. She pushed it gently toward a corner, and he toddled after it, falling every few steps but getting up to resume the chase. A tumbling sound heralded the arrival of Felix, who was learning to negotiate the steps. The cat-boy shook off his tumble and toddled to join Camber’s game.
“Felix!” the Chelseas called, concerned for the baby, but Felix was tough—or hard-headed, depending on who you asked, and was quickly up and going again. His sisters descended more carefully, and in reverse. Smith was glad she had only one, a boy she’d named Taylor, too young for such adventures as yet. Sanna was thoroughly smitten with her little Ibrahim, and Kamilah dutifully took care of the daughter she’d presented to Charlie. He’d named her after his mother, Charlene. Hilda, in turn, had given birth to a son she named Wilhelm. Fortunately, he was now much more careful about getting his women pregnant.
He came home to ecstatic cries from women and children, and his own smile answered them. He hugged each of them and lay down on the couch so the kids could crawl all over him. Camber and Felix babbled incessantly, competing for their father’s attention as brothers will. The phone rang, and Amelie answered.
“Lobo residence.” she said.
“Amelie?” The voice was that of Charlie’s grandfather, Curtis. “You-Know-Who is up to his tricks again. We need to grab some of my stuff from storage quickly. We’re bringing the wizards of the pool house.”
“Right.” she said. “I’ll get Charlie, and we’ll be there soon.”
“Who was it?” Charlie asked.
“It’s your grandfather.” Amelie said. “He-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named is up to more assholery, and Curtis wants to snatch his stuff out of You-Know-Who’s grasp.”
“Right.” Charlie said. The kids were scooped off their father, despite their protestations.
“Take care, Master.” Amelie said, kissing him.
“Likewise.” he told her. It had been months since their last trouble with the Fell, and he wasn’t foolish enough to think they’d given up. He’d been having strange dreams lately, which none of his sources had found an explanation for.
Curtis handed Charlie the key to his storage units as the pickup backed up to the door. Charlie got out via the driver’s-side door as the second vehicle pulled up to the second unit. Charlie tossed that key to Artus Myrdhynn, who opened it carefully.
“Your grandfather’s instinct is remarkable.” Brutus said to Charlie, examining the contents of the storage unit. “Oh!” His eyes had wandered upward, where a sticker with strange characters on it was adhered to the inside of the door. “Very, very good! Where did you find containment sutras?”
“Some old guy in New York’s Chinatown.” Curtis answered. “Seemed like a good idea to put something up to hold in the bad mojo coming off that stuff.”
“’Bad mojo’ indeed.” Artus murmured. “It’s a good thing you didn’t try to use any of this.” He looked around in the unit Charlie was unloading. “This stuff should be safe enough.”
“Uh...help, I’m stuck!” Thomas called from the rear window of the truck. Charlie sighed and pushed his brother back inside.
“You’re not a little kid anymore, Thomas.” Charlie said. “Use the door.”
“Fine.” Thomas said, crawling out like a hermit crab from a too-small shell. He took a look at himself as he stretched. He hadn’t noticed how much broader his shoulders had become. He helped his brothers transfer the less-dangerous objects from storage, while the Myrdhynns loaded the dark stuff Curtis had sealed away in the other unit. A car arrived late in the loading, and guys in suits got out.
“Excuse us, gentlemen, but we have to insist you cease and desist in this theft of our employer’s property.” the driver said, pulling a pistol from his breast pocket. Charlie glared, and the man’s sleeve caught fire. Charlie settled the wardrobe he and Thomas had been shifting and hopped down.
“You’d better get going while you still can.” Charlie threatened. The other three pulled their own weapons. Charlie gave them a light dose of lightning that left them twitching on the ground. The burned one growled and tried to tackle him, but took a blast of icy air that sent him flying. Charlie touched the foreheads of each of the incapacitated goons, muttering a spell under his breath.
“What was that?” Harold, Jr. asked.
“Memory spell.” Charlie responded. “They won’t wake up for a few hours, and they won’t remember diddly for the past hour.”
“Good work.” Artus said. They finished loading and moved the goons and their car out of the way. Charlie felt a prickle of the senses which told him that someone with the mage-gift was approaching. Mumbling a spell under his breath, he conjured an image in the air before him—his asshole uncle surrounded by a semi-transparent representation of a black Lexus.
“He’s coming.” Charlie said, banishing his image. He reached into his backpack and pulled out Tashi Myrdhynn’s grimoire. Sensing his intentions, the spirit inside obligingly opened to the proper page. The spell was in ancient Celtic, and he was grateful for Annemarie’s help in that language as he called forth weather-elementals to “prevent the harm his uncle brought.” Thus given their mission, the elementals took form, like anime girls superimposed on the real world at 90% transparency, then swirled off to do his bidding. A thunderhead boiled into existence, and the two vehicles drove off in the opposite direction, though it meant a long detour, it was worth it as hailstones large enough for Charlie to pick out individuals from the stream began to pelt road between hunter and hunted.
Men and women in the robes of Myrdhynns awaited them as they returned to Charlie’s parents’ house. The other truck with the darker cargo stopped before it reached the property, and the Myrdhynns took charge of it. Artus and Brutus made for a sweat lodge to purify themselves. Something niggled at the back of Charlie’s mind, but he was far too tired to puzzle it out now. He seated himself on the couch, and was soon horizontal.
The dream started again. A female voice calling his name, a hand marked with the Mark of Atlantis reaching out from a cold, empty void. There was a pleading note to the voice this time, and Charlie reached out, grasping the hand. His eyes snapped open as he felt his magical reserves being drained. Suddenly, there was a woman on top of him, her clothes centuries out of date and her skin as cold as if she’d just come in out of a blizzard.
“Thank you, Charlie.” the woman whispered weakly, and then both of them lost consciousness.
When Charlie awoke, he was in his old bed. Amelie was in a chair next to the bed, her sleeping head pillowed on crossed arms on his blanket. He stroked her crimson hair gently, and she stirred. “Master!” she whispered joyously. She stood up and grunted as she discovered a cramp in her side and a crick in her back. Charlie reached out to draw in magical energy, for his own reserves were drained. He mumbled a healing spell, and Amelie sighed in relief. Then, he crawled out of bed and went to the bathroom. Amelie helped him get through the portal back to Spain, and they promptly ended up in bed without bothering to lock the door. Camber padded in just as Charlie was getting comfortable.
“Hey, munchkin.” he said affectionately, helping the baby crawl into bed. He and Amelie nodded off with Camber happily chattering between them. His next awakening saw him much stronger than before. He carried Camber downstairs, where he found Steve and Claudia helping with the kids.
“Hey, dude, I heard you were wiped!” Steve said. “What happened?”
“Someone needed my help to get out of...wherever she was.” Charlie responded.
“You sure she’s not a bad one?” Steve asked. “Not that you can’t handle the bad ones, especially if they’re hot, but...”
“She had the Mark of Atlantis in her palm, and the Crystal doesn’t mark bad people.” Charlie said. He put Camber in his high chair and fastened him in, while the boy repeated “Dada” over and over again. Charlie managed to get some food into Camber’s mouth, though most of it ended up on the high chair and bib.
Once they were both cleaned up, Camber refused to allow himself to be put down, so Charlie took the baby with him through the gate to his parents’ house. There, he found the mysterious woman waiting for him. Valorie and Maggie sat nearby, with Clement, who had brought Hannity to teach her English by magical means, since it was a language everyone present spoke. Charlie noticed that she wore the robes of a Myrdhynn.
“I’m glad you’re well.” the woman said. “My name is Marilyn Lobo, and I’m very grateful to you for bringing me out of that null-dimension.”
“Didn’t you call me?” Charlie asked. “In the dream...”
“I’ve been calling to all of my blood relations since Morganna was brought out by her Order, which weakened the seal so that I could get a message out, but you were the first one to try...and at one point I was rather pointedly rebuffed.”
“Don’t tell me...the Fell Order M’rdread?” Charlie groaned. Marilyn nodded.
“So...we’re related?” Maggie asked.
“Now I have another reason to be glad I didn’t have the same dreams.” Clement murmured, which got the twins cuddling with him.
“So, who’s Morganna?” Charlie asked.
“My stepsister—which is why I limited the calling to blood relatives. I’m sorry, I should start at the beginning. As I said, my name is Marilyn Lobo, though I had other surnames before that. In the Order of Merlin, I was Rowan Myrdhynn—one of the better teachers and fighters in the Order if I do say so myself. In the year 1477, I married my first husband—a sweet man who was very, very sensitive to magic though he had little talent for using it—in response to one of my rare foresight dreams, and was semi-retired from the Circle. The next year, the Inquisition came, ostensibly to catch conversos who had secretly relapsed to Judaism and Islam, but they were more than happy to use the excuse to burn a few ‘witches.’ They caught us with a resin mixture from a confiscated grimoire, which prevented us from using magic to escape. My husband held them off long enough for me to get away on foot. I wasn’t given time to wash the resin off; the hunters harried me to exhaustion. By chance, I found a gap in the wall around a sympathizer’s home—Tomás Lobo. He took me in and hid me in a secret room with several conversos. He kept me safe and saw me safely delivered of my daughter. By then, we had fallen in love, and he adopted her and married me. To protect my new family, I had to block off my magical abilities, to be reawakened only in direst peril, because the Church apparently had the means to detect those with the gift. Tomás gave me four children, three sons and another daughter, and I settled into my new life.
“My oldest was fifteen when my stepsister, Morganna, reentered my life. We’d been rivals since childhood, and she hated everything I stood for, so when I had gone to the Myrdhynns for training, she sought training elsewhere—with the Fell Order M’rdread. We each rose through the ranks in our respective Orders, I attained a place in Merlin’s Circle, and she slew her master and took over. Now, as I came to cherish my family, Morganna appeared with six M’rdread adepts, and only the danger provision in my spell saved us from extermination on the spot. I sent Tomás and the children home and fought harder than I ever had. Morganna had never fought fair, so when her followers lay broken on the field, she decided to try banishing me to a limbo-realm where I would be no threat to her, knowing that I didn’t have the strength to block or dispel her magic. Instead, I fed my remaining power into her spell, expanding it to envelop her as well, bringing her with me. There we remained until the Fell brought her out, weakening the seal so I could call out for release as well.”
She sighed, and accepted a glass of iced tea from Charlie’s father. When she was able to speak again, Charlie asked what Morganna looked like. Marilyn conjured an image of a woman with straight blood-colored hair, her bangs rigidly straight above her eyebrows. She wore the familiar attire of the Fell Order M’rdread over form-fitting black armor with spiked nipples. The armor wasn’t the sexy kind found in role-playing games, but actually covered her from the neck down. Her face would have been pretty if she wasn’t scowling.
“I need a place to rest.” Marilyn said tiredly, dissipating her illusion. “It will be some time before I’m ready to fight again.”
“I’ll check my wife’s real estate portfolio.” Charlie said.
“Are you sure that’s wise?” his father asked. “These guys know you, so they might have your wife’s houses watched.”
“Good thinking.” Charlie conceded. “Marilyn, you’ll probably be safer with other Myrdhynns nearby to back you up until we can arrange another safehouse.” Marilyn nodded, and sagged. Charlie was feeling pretty saggy himself, but he managed to get back home without incident.
Venna, Sheena and Albina were cleaning. He got them to help him upstairs. Albina nuzzled his hand lovingly. Her mind had broken under the onslaught of pleasure and her own amplified magic when she had worn Charlie’s enchanted robe. Her resistance had broken so suddenly that her sense of self had shattered. It had taken time to gather enough shards of her mind so she could live a useful life. She still had memories of her old self, but they had no more personal connection to her than a historical figure she’d read about in some dusty book. Charlie had done nothing to discourage Albina’s dissociation from her past, and had even started calling her Ivory instead of Albina. “Ivory,” for her part, disliked what she knew of the Albina persona, since it was so different from her new self. Sanna had suggested removing the Albina memory-remnants and storing them elsewhere for the Myrdhynns to sift through at leisure—a procedure Ivory was eager for, if it would get rid of “the evil ghost in her mind.”
“Master.” she purred.
“I’m tired, Ivory-doll. Go finish your chores and we’ll see if I feel better later.” She genuflected before leaving.
“I exist only for your desire, Master.” she said as she backed out. He saw the other ex-M’rdread out before he flopped backward onto his bed and fell asleep.
Thomas watched Joannie fighting with her boyfriend from across the courtyard. She was in his class, and way out of her boyfriend’s league. Looking at him, it was easy to believe that humans and Neanderthals had inter-bred, because this specimen was definitely from knuckle-dragging stock. The problem was that there was intense pressure for the prettiest girl in school to date the football hero—as if she was a fish to be tossed to a performing bear. This particular bear liked to play with his food.
Thomas intended to put a stop to that. Armed with the jeweled pendant he’d been given at Charlie’s wedding, he thought he had a good chance of succeeding. The fight ended with Joannie running into the girls’ bathroom, streaming tears like a lawn sprinkler. Thomas tailed her boyfriend, putting on the mirrored “alien eyes” sunglasses he’d bought at Wal-Mart.
“What do you want, shrimp?” the Neanderthal grunted when he noticed he was being followed. There was nobody around, so Thomas figured this was as good a place as any.
“That’s like a blue whale calling a humpback ‘shrimp.’” Thomas responded. “I may not be as big as you, but that’s no reason to call names, tard.” His foe whirled and launched into his intimidation routine. Thomas held up the crystal, spinning it slightly. The bully’s face slackened as his eyes locked on the crystal held just outside of Thomas’ field of vision. He put it away. “You will not go near Joannie again, nor will you make any attempt to contact her, nor will you make any attempt to have anyone else contact her or do anything to her on your behalf. If you don’t understand any of the words I’ve said to you, you will look them up. You will not consciously remember anything that’s happened since you noticed I was here, but you will do everything I’ve told you anyway. Now, turn around and wake up.” Thomas made himself scarce. He didn’t see Joannie again until it was time to go home. In fact, it was because of his little “talk” with her now-ex-boyfriend that she was there at all—he had been her ride to school. “Joannie! Hi! Problem?”
“Oh, Thomas! Um, I’m...just waiting on...my parents.” she stammered—which she only did when she was lying.
“Well, I’m sure glad I caught you.” Thomas said. “I think you dropped this.” She looked, and was ensnared by the crystal. “Follow me.” he said. She did, shambling helplessly behind him. He led her to the lab and jimmied the door open with his library card. He led her inside and closed the door behind them. There was a thick, heavy blanket for smothering fires that fire extinguishers would only spread, and he laid this out on the floor, folded in half to enhance what little softness there was, out of sight of the door’s little window. “Take your clothes off and lie on the blanket, Joannie.” he said. Helplessly, she obeyed. He sat down on the cold floor next to her, then kissed her unresponding lips. Under the crystal’s influence, she had a peaceful, open and trusting look on her face. Her ex had merely looked like a moron. He pushed that thought out of his mind and went on. “Joannie, you no longer have to be trapped in a relationship with an abusive man. The other girls in school no longer have any control over who you date. You do not obey them. You obey me. You desire me. I am your sexual ideal. Nothing I tell you to do will or can seem wrong or strange to you. You love me totally and completely, and you will do anything I want. You will give yourself to me, and let me guide you. You will be my adoring love-slave, and love every moment of it. In private, you may call me Master, but if there is a chance we may be overheard, you will keep our secret, because you know that if anyone knew, they would take me away and you would be alone. Now, when I snap my fingers, you will awaken.” He snapped his fingers, and she blinked for the first time since he’d shown her the crystal.
“Master?” she asked. He kissed her on the mouth, and she moaned. His lips migrated over her body, kissing every inch of her, even on her pussy lips. His eyes drank in her form, from her soft brown hair and eyes, over her small but pert breasts and shapely hips, down her long, smooth legs to her toes, and his hands caressed her, exciting her and making her tremble—or was she just cold? “Master...” she moaned. Thomas took his clothes off, putting them on the opposite side of the pallet from hers. His penis slid into her very wet opening, and she gripped the fire blanket beneath her while she clenched in orgasm. “Yes! Yes, Master! Take me, claim me, I’m yours!” she exclaimed. He sucked her nipples one at a time while she rode the roller coaster of pleasure beneath him, his cock pumping into her strongly. He could feel his balls queuing up a load of sperm and tried to hold back, to prolong this encounter as long as possible, but her vaginal muscles were doing wonderful things to his cock, and his breath caught in his throat as he went off, his hips shoving him as far into her as possible to fire his seed deep into her womb. Joannie came again, ecstatic that she had pleased him. He lay down on top of her and nodded off, still inside her.
Joannie lay under her new Master and wept happily. Without saying a word, Master had made her feel beautiful and loved. Her heart drank in his affection and attention like a desert flower soaking up the meager rains. Even as his love-slave and sexual plaything, she had value in his eyes. She basked in the joy of her new reality, vowing silently to be the best slave-girl any hypnotist ever had. Strange that she knew her feelings were artificial—at least partially—but didn’t care in the slightest. She heard something—the opening of one of the outside doors. She kissed her Master adoringly and gently shook him awake. He mumbled sleepily.
“Master!” she whispered. “Master, someone’s coming! We’ll be caught!” He came awake just then. They both shivered as his cock emerged from her depths. They hurried to get dressed and put the blanket back. She led him to the other side of the lab from where the noise had come, and they slipped out just as the janitor’s key rasped in the lock.
“There you are! Where have you been?” his mother asked when they got to the parking lot.
“Helping Joannie.” Thomas said. Joannie smiled shyly. “She’s just been through a nasty break-up, and her so-called ‘friends’ are no help at all.” Thomas added. His mother, noticing the moisture on Joannie’s cheeks, sighed.
“I’m sorry I got angry.” she said.
“It’s all right.” Joannie replied.
“Is it okay if we drop her off at her house, Mom?” Thomas asked. “Her...ex...was her ride, and the busses are already gone.”
“All right, this time.” his mother said.
“Thanks, Mom!” Thomas said, hugging her. He and Joannie got into the back and rolled the windows down, which they both hoped would keep any untoward smells from reaching the older woman—they’d been fortunate enough to stand downwind during the initial confrontation, but Charlie had given everyone in the family a necklace with the symbol from his tattoo on it as a protection, so Thomas couldn’t use the crystal to get out of trouble.
Interesting how casually he thought of using the crystal now, after just two uses. He’d avoided doing it until now, but he thought he could handle it. Joannie put her hand on his, below the level where his mother would see in the rear view mirror. She gave directions, and they were at Joannie’s place all too soon. It was a quaint little house, probably two-bedroom. Joannie invited them in, but Thomas’ mother demurred, saying that she had to get Thomas home so she could go to work. Joannie gave Thomas her cell number so he could call her.
“Front seat, kiddo.” his mother said as Joannie went into the house. Thomas obeyed, fastening his seatbelt even though he hated the way it rubbed his neck. She backed out of the driveway and turned the car homeward. “She likes you, and you like her. Neither one of you is enough of an actor to hide it from anyone but yourselves.” she said bluntly.
“You don’t miss much.” Thomas responded, knowing better than to argue.
“Damn right.” she said. She pulled into a small drug store and told him to wait there. When she came out again, she tossed a white plastic bag into his lap. A rectangular shape inside poked him square in the crotch. He peered inside and his face burned with a fiery blush.
“MOM!” he squeaked, staring in horror at the box of condoms inside (“ribbed for her pleasure” written in one corner). His mother had a wicked glint in her eye.
“What? I know what kind of self-control you kids have. I raised you, didn’t I? No preaching, just wait till she’s eighteen before you knock her up, that’s all I ask.” With that, she pulled out of the parking lot and headed for home. Once there, Thomas took the box, wrapped up as tightly in the bag as possible, and hid it in his sock drawer.
Morganna was well pleased with herself. Despite the lingering aftereffects of her long imprisonment—a shame that rankled even now—she had managed to resist the attempts of the fool who had taken over the Order to take her over as well, and now she stretched luxuriously in the quarters reserved for the Master of the M’rdread. Albina’s belongings had been spirited away not long after she had been, so the contents were all contributed by her so-called successor, who now licked Morganna’s armored boots, his white, empty eyes seeing nothing.
Her enemy’s descendant was prospering. That rankled even more than the imprisonment. For someone who had started his magical training in his twenties, he was learning quickly and growing stronger. The incompetents that made up the present Order had failed to stop him before, afraid of his vindictive imagination. If he wasn’t so tainted by foolish notions of “right” and “wrong,” he might make a good apprentice—with the proper protections placed in his mind against rebellion. It was a shame to waste such talent, but a talented enemy was not to be tolerated.
Perhaps his niece, though...the child Akiko was young enough to be twisted to her ends, and carried even more potential than Charlie. The potential wasn’t present in similar magnitude in her brother Jounochi, but Kumoko’s latest pregnancy showed great promise—and there was a completely virgin mind to be darkened, should her efforts with Akiko fail. Her lips pulled back from her teeth in a feral smile. She shifted position, her boot catching her slave’s nose and bloodying it.
“Go get that fixed.” she snarled. “I won’t have your blood on my carpet!” The mindless male crawled away to obey. She sighed and tried to cast her vision to the future, but it was hard to see.
“I see that you are still the same as ever, Morganna.” a familiar voice said from the shadows. Morganna whirled on the intruder, dark magic crackling at her fingertips. “Temper, temper. Is that the way to greet an old friend?” Morganna glared, her eyes flicking a measuring glance over her “guest.” He was much the same as the last time she’d seen him, centuries ago. The body was that of a Drow, an Elf tainted by dark powers, who increase those powers by spreading evil and suffering. The soul, however, was that of the infamous Mordred, who had mortally wounded King Arthur and been slain by him. Refusing to relinquish his hold on the Earth plane, he had wandered bodiless until he had met a tribe of Drow, who resurrected him in a Drow’s body.
“What do you want?” she demanded.
“Dear Morganna, where is your subtlety? Your patience?”
“Your ‘gifts’ always come with a price, Mordred. I would know it before I agree to anything, especially after the last time.”
“You’re the one with the Sight, my pet.” Mordred purred, his lips peeling back from piranha-like teeth. “I have never laid claim to such gifts as that. But even you failed to foresee that she would increase the power of your own spell when she perceived that she couldn’t defeat it. You can’t blame me for your imprisonment. I merely provided you with information that your, heh, beloved stepsister had blocked off her own powers to hide from the Church. I certainly had nothing to gain by your absence these many, many years. Albina was not your equal.”
“And what were you doing all this time? Not working to free me, I take it.”
“For such as I, there is always work to do.” Mordred said. “Remember that our power comes from the misery of mortals. There’s always someone whose power needs to be twisted for our use. A politician, a wealthy businessman, a religious authority, or even just a charismatic man people will follow. Conquest-based religions are our bread and butter.” Morganna glared at him. He chuckled and untied the pouch from his belt, tossing it to her. She caught it automatically, and peered inside.
“Is this what I think it is?” she asked. Mordred smiled.
“Yes.” There was mischief in his dark Drow eyes. “I added a little something to allow it to cut through wards and charms, such as that tattoo Charlie wears. I think you’ll agree that it’s kept him alive more than long enough.”
“And what price must I pay for this boon?” Morganna asked, suspiciously.
“A mere pittance, some discomfort.” Mordred said dismissively. “It’s blood-magic, you see.”
“I thought so.” Morganna said. “In that case, I should send for a servant and have them bring food. I’ll need my strength if I’m to bleed for my art.” Mordred smiled, and all light disappeared for an instant as he left. She summoned a servant, and handed the pouch to him. “I want this tested thoroughly, with a thorough search for any magics—overt or hidden, including trap-spells.”
“Yes, Mistress.” the servant said, bowing nervously before he left.
“You may have founded this Order, Mordred, but my mother didn’t give birth to a moron.” she muttered in the silence of her empty room.
Marilyn rubbed her temples, muttering a fatigue-banishing spell. There was so much to catch up on, so many things modern people were expected to know. A lot of basic concepts had come to her when she’d been given English, but putting meat on the bare bones of those concepts was a full-time job in and of itself. Charlie had been very helpful with his “video” collection. The visual representations and demonstrations made things much more real for her than dry text or verbal explanation. She felt hands on her shoulders and looked up.
“Sanna!” she exclaimed.
“Playing student again, my old apprentice?” Iset Myrdhynn asked fondly. Marilyn rose from her chair and embraced her former teacher. She backed up a pace, looking Sanna over with her other sight.
“What’s this?” she asked, noticing something about Sanna’s head—controls and a trap for whoever tried to undo them.
“Tashi has always had odd notions about how to go about things.” Sanna said. “It’s only until Charlie is advanced enough to undo it himself.”
“But...” Marilyn protested.
“It’s not as bad as all that, really. Charlie’s as kind and considerate as anyone could hope for, and a quick study for someone who started as late in life as he did.”
“I don’t know how I could stand knowing I was under someone else’s control.”
“You’d be proud of your many-times-great-grandson.” Sanna said, her eyes clouded with love. “Speaking of which, I’d like you to meet Ibrahim...” She bent down and scooped up a dark-haired enchanter in footed pajamas.
“He got you pregnant?” Marilyn asked, eyes wide with surprise.
“Rowan Myrdhynn, you know as well as I that there are means by which we archmagi can help nature along. I induced ovulation.” Marilyn relaxed at this. Sanna handed her son over, and Marilyn sat down, cradling the infant gently. Ibrahim stared up at her with a look that melted the last of her reservations.
“He is a little darling, isn’t he?” Marilyn remarked with a smile.
“Artus and Brutus like all of Charlie’s children almost as much as little Akiko.”
“Oh, that adorable little enchantress?” Marilyn asked. “Where did she get such potential? Her parents don’t make the testing medallion glow nearly as bright.”
“We’ve had surprises like her before. It’s a lucky thing we became aware of her so young. Ali Myrdhynn has taken a personal interest in her, or such is the impression I get when he shows up on holidays with those special presents.”
“I imagine you’re right.” Marilyn said. The conversation turned to maternal topics, a subject of which Marilyn had fond memories. Ibrahim reached for his mother, and Sanna took him back, holding him lovingly until he messed his diaper.
“Oops, I guess I’d better go change him.” Sanna said, rising. “It’s nice seeing you again. I admit I was upset when I heard you’d disappeared—even though you did manage to take Morganna with you. That one...”
“Has been a thorn in my side for centuries, and I hers.” Marilyn said. “Just like Merlin and Morgan.” Sanna nodded and opened the door.
“About time!” Artus said.
“We were afraid you’d monopolize her all day.” Brutus added. They wrinkled their noses as Sanna walked by. Ibrahim was starting to fuss over his diaper.
“So, my old students come back for a visit?” Marilyn asked. They smiled like the children they had been when she had taught them, so many years ago. Artus hugged her first, followed by Brutus, who was as careful as ever. “I’m glad you decided to get rid of that ridiculous wig.” she told him. Brutus blushed.
“We were wondering if there was anything we could help you with.” Artus said.
“You mean you thought it’d be fun to teach your old teacher?” Marilyn joked. “Actually, I would appreciate the insight of someone who was there when some of these things happened.”
“Well, not always there there, if you catch the distinction. Although Brutus could tell you what it was like as a Union quartermaster during the Civil War.”
And so the rest of the afternoon passed pleasantly, in the company of old acquaintances.
Marea’s head broke the surface of the water and she took a look around. So this was the surface world? It was very different from the world at the bottom of the Trench. The golden blaze of the sun hurt her eye, and she used her hand to shade herself. Her left eye, marred by her birthmark, was covered by her verdant locks. She coughed up the water that had filled her lungs all her life and took her first breath of air. Once her body was acclimated to the new situation, she sounded and swam shoreward. She had swum gradually to shallower waters over the last several months as she made her way around the southern part of the continent then northward, thus avoiding the dangers of decompression. The humans called this region “Spain.” She found the proper river and swam in until it became so shallow that she risked snagging her burden on the bottom.
She looked down at the sword clinging to a powerful magnet at the end of a ten-foot rope. A weapon of hatred and death, disposed of by an ignorant but well-meaning young sorcerer. It was a case of her people’s secrecy coming back to bite them in the fins. She took a deep breath and pulled it in. As it came within jamming distance of her body, her dolphin-like tail split painfully, transmuting into legs. She would be unable to respirate water while the sword was close by, so she was glad she’d taken the time to get used to air. She would be breathing it for a while. At last, the thing was in her hands. She crawled out of the water.
She would have to follow the vision from memory now. The sword blocked her Second Sight as thoroughly as it did the magic her people used to adapt themselves for life underwater. Marea sat on the shore next to the sword, running curious fingers over the pale toes she now possessed. Odd little digits they were. She picked up the sword and practiced walking. Balance and coordination were difficult, but she drew on the memories of the vision. She’d always been smart, and quick to learn. That and her hard-won survival instincts had led her to a commission as Captain of the Royal Guard, the first female to hold the office—a commission she had resigned to come here, because she did not foresee a return, and her liege deserved to know so he could choose a successor quickly. She stumbled through trees and came upon a camp site. People were swimming just upstream, and clothing was piled nearby. She grabbed a few random items and tried them on. Simple form-follows-function reasoning showed her what was supposed to cover her pelvis, what was supposed to cover her torso, and what she was supposed to put on her feet. She got the foot-coverings on the wrong feet the first time she tried, but soon corrected herself. She hefted the heavy sword to her shoulder and staggered on, denying fatigue through sheer force of will, until she found a comfortable rhythm. A human with a badge on his torso-covering stopped her, questioning her about the sword. She pretended not to understand, and spoke her own language in return. When he made as if to restrain her, she spoke a few halting words in his to indicate to him that she intended to return the sword to its rightful owner. The constable sighed and gestured her on. Marea picked up the walk-rhythm again and made her way onward. She felt as if guppies were swimming in her stomach as she approached the house of her visions. She saw a hole open in the wards as she walked through. She rapped on the window, knowing that danger lurked above the doorway, in the form of a large stone rendered almost weightless by magic. If she walked under that, she’d be crushed—the sword would jam the spell that kept it up there, and gravity would pull it down.
The window rose, and a familiar-yet-strange face appeared. Two eyes met her one uncovered eye, then flicked to the sword on her shoulder. “Great googly-moogly!” he muttered, sagging in the sill. “Where did you get that?”
“It landed in our prison when you threw it overboard. Luckily, I was able to warn the guards away, and the only people to drown were prisoners—hard-hearted criminals.” she said. The young man went pale. Marea handed it to him, and he invited her inside. She briefly entertained thoughts of leaving now that the sword was back on land, but something else inside her propelled her to the door, which opened before her. The human had left the sword by the window so it wouldn’t drop the stone on her.
“Amelie, put that sword somewhere until I find something else to do with it.” he said to a red-haired woman with so much hair that Marea was briefly jealous.
“Is that...?” she asked. He nodded. She scooped up the thing and took it away.
“How’d you get that thing to the surface, anyway?” he asked Marea.
“A very strong magnet on the end of a very long rope.” she responded. She seated herself in a chair when he invited her to do so, and took off the pelvis-cloth. Under his eyes, her lower half became dolphin-like once again. She rubbed her sore fins with a sigh.
“So, what’s your name?” he asked.
“Marea, Captain of the Royal Guard, resigned.”
“I did not foresee returning, for some reason.” Marea responded. He put his hand on her shoulder. Something clicked in her mind, like a clasp on one of the artifacts the humans sometimes dropped into the sea by accident. The mark over her eye burned briefly, and his will was in her head. Her own will was diminished beside it, and she cried out in surprise.
Is it happening again? he thought to himself, though it echoed in her mind like a shout in a cave.
Is what happening again? she thought. Images flooded her mind—a half-fox girl with whom he had accidentally forged an unequal mind-link, with her mind subservient to his. Marea sank to the floor, her tail turning back into legs, though she barely noticed the pain of it. He brushed her hair out of her face, revealing the mark—a matching one glowing on his own hand. Master. she thought, nuzzling his hand as a pleasant sense of belonging filled her.
Hello, sister. another voice said in her head. Marea turned her head to the left and found herself eye-to-eye with the fox-girl. Troublemaker-Who-Sets-the-Midwife-On-Fire, or Trouble for short. Her voice was not as strong as that of Master Charlie, but she could hear it. I’m glad to welcome you home. Marea felt drops of water running down her face as the voice filled a void she hadn’t known was inside her. Trouble helped Marea take off her top. Memories bubbled up unbidden, shared between the three of them—what life was like without a known father in her society, and then her mother’s death while she was young, and her years of surviving alone on the fringes, learning to fight, working hard until she caught the attention of a member of the Royal Guard, who took her in and trained her. There were few females in the Guard, and she found herself isolated, with only duty to cling to. When she ascended to the rank of Captain, she was even more isolated, with no hope of its ending.
Master drew her up, and held her sobbing body in his arms. The sobbing drained the reservoir of sadness, until she hung in his arms, feeling empty but for Master’s will and the voices that invaded soothingly. Home. New strength flowed into her, and she was able to stand again. She was smiling, feeling happier than she could ever remember being. Master led her upstairs and lay her on a soft surface. He kissed her, and she moaned into his mouth, feeling his desire flooding her. His hands were on her breasts, sending pleasure rippling through her. Then he was inside her. It was painful at first, but he was gentle, and soon there was only pleasure, crashing over her like breakers on a beach. Her hips moved in instinctive ways dating back to before her people had abandoned life on land. Pressure built up inside her, and finally reached a breaking point. Pleasure erupted in her mind like a sea-volcano, bringing joy instead of destruction. She looked lovingly into her Master’s eyes. Then Trouble was doing something with her tongue—making him hard again. Marea sighed and watched as Master pleasured Trouble, sharing their pleasure secondhand. Her hand stole between her legs and began to stroke her crotch, enhancing the feelings she was getting from them. She climaxed again in unison with Trouble.
Fire and Water. I wonder if there’s one for Earth and Air? Master thought. As she drifted on the edge of sleep, Marea had a vision of two others, though the image wasn’t clear. All of them were kneeling at Master’s feet, and all of them were happy. She drifted to sleep at last, her arms wrapped around Trouble. Master was covering them with the blanket. Interesting how the words flowed so easily into her mind now.
The bath tub was a large one, which suited Marea fine. Her tail hung over the edge while she soaked in water that was hot but not too hot. A child opened the door and gawked at her. She was beautiful, and Marea could sense immense potential in her.
“Mermaid?” the girl asked.
“Yes, I suppose that’s what you humans call my kind.” Marea said. “My name is Marea.”
“My name is Akiko.” the child said. She walked over to the toilet, which had a brightly-colored attachment on it so she could step up and sit down without falling. Marea politely averted her eyes as Akiko did her business. The child cleaned up then walked boldly to the side of the tub. “You got the same picture as Unca Charlie.” she said, pointing to the Mark on her eye.
“That’s right, my dear. Your uncle has his on the palm of his hand, Trouble has hers on her forehead, and I have mine on my eye.”
“Can I get one?” Akiko asked. “I want it on my hand like Charlie!”
“I don’t know how you get them, sweetling.” Marea said. “I was born with mine, and I’ve had it all my life.”
“I’ll ask Charlie, he knows everything!” Marea felt Charlie’s amusement flowing into her mind, and laughed in response. She pulled the plug and maneuvered herself to the edge of the tub. “Let’s go see him together, shall we?” Akiko gawked as Marea’s tail bifurcated and became legs. Human again, she grabbed a bathrobe from a peg and put it on. She took the girl’s hand and led her to Charlie’s bedroom, where he was sitting fully-clothed with a box in his lap. “Charlie, where pictures come from?”
“Pictures?” Charlie asked. Akiko took his hand and pointed to the Mark in his palm. “This ‘picture’ comes from the Crystal of Atlantis. It has a mind of its own, and it might not want to give you one.” He opened the box, and a brightly-glowing crystal lit the room. Akiko made a soft sigh of wonder as she gazed on it.
“Oh, it says I have to wait ‘til I’m older.” Akiko said. “How much older, Crystal? Oh, okay. I guess I’ll wait.”
Such a precocious child. Marea thought to herself.
No kidding. Charlie said, watching as Akiko curtseyed to the Crystal and skipped from the room. He closed the box with the Crystal in it.
“Showing off the crystal to your baby niece?” Artus asked after a cursory knock on the doorframe.
“She asked.” Charlie said. “What’s that?”
“It’s a similar box to the one the magic-jamming medallion was kept in so it could be teleported.” Artus said, holding the empty container up so Charlie could see. Charlie smiled and grabbed the thing out of his closet. She felt it interfering painfully with her link to Charlie, and she sank to the floor, where she stayed until the box was closed, sighing loudly once the link was reestablished. Artus turned to her then. “Lady, you have the apologies of the Order of Merlin for the lives lost when this invaded your realm, even if they were prisoners as you say.”
“I am not the one you need apologize to, sir Myrdhynn, and I am bound not to return there to deliver the message for you.” Marea said. Artus shrugged, and left.
“I don’t even want to know where they stash that thing.” Charlie huffed, putting the box with the Crystal away. “Except for you, that thing has brought only grief.” He fished under the bed and brought out some clothes—shorts, sandals and a shirt with a picture of someone surfing. Marea put these on eagerly, since she knew it was his will that she wear them. For the love, acceptance and pleasure he gave her, she would suffer worse than the constraints of clothing. Akiko took cover behind the couch when her mother came through, looking for her.
“Akiko, you know it’s past your bedtime!” Kumoko scolded, scooping her daughter up. Camber toddled after them, chanting “Kiko” in hopes of rescuing his cousin. Charlie scooped him up, though he fussed, and took him to the nursery, putting Camber down in his crib with a stuffed Ewok.
“Kiko’s fine, baby, she just has to go to bed, same as you.” Charlie said, kissing his son on the forehead. He moved on to the workroom, sealing the door behind Marea. Trouble, Sanna and Marilyn were waiting for them.
“Marilyn wants to sit in on our lesson today.” Sanna said by way of explanation. Marea knelt beside Trouble, glad for the chance to rest. “Today, we’re going to see if we can get that animal-transformation spell right.”
“I remember how much trouble I had with that one myself.” Marilyn murmured. “What are you trying for?”
“We tried for a bat last time, but all he managed was to become a hairy man with webbed fingers.” Sanna responded. Charlie blushed. Trouble and Marea let warm, supportive thoughts flow through the link until he stopped.
Steve had his son, Luke, on his shoulders when he stopped in for a visit, humming “Pulling Teeth” by Green Day. With his house being in Europe, he could get European beer cheaper than Steve could from America, and Steve was hoping to bum a few. He stopped short when he walked into the kitchen. Seated at the table trying to hold onto a beer with clumsy, furry paws, was an anthropomorphic lion dressed in Charlie’s clothes.
“Hey, Steve.” a somewhat distorted version of Charlie’s voice said.
“Still trying the, uh, animagus thing?”
“Well, I got closer this time.” Charlie growled. He took hold of the can with both paws and took a drink.
“I guess this is a bad time to bum some beer, huh?” Steve asked. Charlie gestured to where the European beer was kept. Steve put Luke in a high chair and grabbed a six-pack. “Don’t worry too much, bud, I’m sure Merlin turned himself into all kinds of weird stuff when he was learning.” He gave Luke a bottle of red Kool-Aid after sniffing it to make sure there was no alcohol mixed into it, and held it for him with one hand while he took a drink of his own beverage. Luke reached out for the can, but Steve wasn’t getting him into THAT habit until he was at least in high school.
“Be right back.” Charlie said, setting his beer down and getting up. He headed through the closet that was connected to his brother’s house. When he came back, there was blood on his mouth and paws.
“Burglar, tripped the wards on my brother’s place.” Charlie said, his leonine mouth curling up in a smile. “He won’t be back.”
“You did let him live, right?”
“Yeah, I just drew enough blood to scare the shit out of him. He left a trail of it on the way out, tumbling out of his britches leg.” He took a breath, and closed his eyes. His body glowed and his human form began to reassert itself. He went to the sink and washed his face and hands, then washed out his mouth with a glass of water. “Much better.” he said, sounding a lot like his normal self again. He popped the top on a beer and took a drink.
“Ya know what’s weird, dude? I’ve been seeing these guys hanging around my place, dressed in black versions of Piccolo’s outfit with the turban and the cape and stuff.” Steve said. Charlie spewed his beer across the table, which made Luke laugh.
“Shit.” was all Charlie said. He left the room. Steve had cleaned up the beer by the time he came back with a sword.
“What’s that do?” Steve asked.
“The blade draws in dark magic—any dark magic—and stores it. Then, all you have to do is point the tip at something and think ‘discharge,’ and it’ll send out all the stored energy at once in whatever direction you’re pointing. The scabbard has two charms on it. One keeps others from noticing that you’re wearing a sword until you draw it, the other one makes the scabbard vibrate when there’s a dark mage nearby.”
“Coolness.” Steve said, accepting the weapon. He drew it. It was similar to the swords maintained for military dress uniforms, except for the onyx stones in the guard and pommel. He strapped the sword belt around his waist. “Thanks, man.”
“Thank Annemarie, she made it.” Charlie said. He put a ring set with large black pearl in Steve’s hand. “That’s for your wife. It does pretty much the same thing, but the energy comes out as a black ball that homes in on the intended target, and goes around behind them if they have a hostage.”
“Awesome!” Steve said.
“I have a feeling you’re going to need them.” Charlie said.
“Steve?” Claudia called. “Do you have Luke with you?”
“Luckily Claudia’s almost as clingy with Luke as she is with me, so he’ll always have at least one of us nearby.” Steve murmured, picking up his son and the beer. “I owe ya, man.”
Thomas had set his alarm earlier than usual this morning. He crawled out of bed, popping the top on a Dr. Pepper, and logged into his computer. Joannie was waiting for him on voice chat.
“Master!” she whispered joyously. Her naked body was illuminated only by her monitor, but even her crappy webcam managed to convey her eagerness. Her nipples were visibly hard, and she was jittery with excitement.
“Hey, Joannie.” Thomas said. “Are you ready?”
“Yes, Master!” she squeaked.
“Open up your closet and let’s get your clothes picked out, shall we?” What he picked out for her was within the school’s dress code, but only barely, with the white skirt falling to exactly two inches above her knees and a clingy blue top that just barely stayed tucked in when she stretched. She showed him the new, sexy underwear she’d bought; sheer, silky nothings that made Thomas’ palms itch to feel them. He had her put the blue set, which matched her top, with her other clothes. At his command, she got a pot of hot water, a razor, and some shaving cream for sensitive skin. He directed her in the shaving of her privates, vowing to do this for her himself one day. She moaned as she ran her fingers over her newly-shaven labia. He had her bite her pillow so she could keep quiet while she masturbated at his command. She arched her back and squeezed her left breast as she came, then licked her juices off her fingers for his pleasure. He had her get dressed, then told her where to meet him when they got to school.
He put on his blue jeans, socks and shoes hurriedly, then put on a polo shirt that looked just a little darker than Joannie’s top. He ran to the kitchen and grabbed some Pop Tarts, which he ate hurriedly before brushing his teeth. He ran down to the bus stop, since his parents had both left early for work, and waited patiently. A woman in a black version of Piccolo’s costume was standing on top of a lamp post. Thomas felt under his shirt for the medallion his brother had given him, with the same mark as the tat on his back. Good, it was still there. Which meant that the Evil She-Piccolo could only materialize a portal under his feet or use some other indirect attack. Her sneer told him all he needed to know about her skill with indirectness. She vanished just as the bus appeared.
Since he was half-expecting a giant hole to appear in front of the bus the entire way, Thomas’ ride was less pleasant than usual. His friend sitting next to him joked about the Simpsons episode “Terror at 5 1/2 Feet,” but Thomas barely heard him. He arrived at school without incident, however, and was quickly pulled into the newspaper room by Joannie, who kissed him fiercely. Her passions drew blood away from one head and into another, and the first thing forgotten was the woman in the Piccolo outfit. He urged her into the dark room—no longer used except for illicit romantic encounters since the newspaper staff had moved on to digital cameras. The silk felt wonderful under his hands, and she moaned as he rubbed her clit through her panties. She came hard, and he had to muffle her screams of ecstasy with his mouth.
“Master, I thought you should know I’ll be ovulating next week.” she whispered as he held her.
“It’s good that you told me, sweetie.” he responded. Next week was a long way away. He slid her panties down her legs, sank to his knees and ate her to another orgasm. She covered her mouth with both hands to stifle the noise, then sank bonelessly to the floor beside him. He opened his pants and brought out his cock. She was ready for him, shivering in anticipation. He kissed her, and she moaned as she tasted herself on his mouth. Then, he was sliding into her slick and sloppy center. She wrapped her legs around his waist, the sloppy sounds of their joining egging them on. She came again, and he wasn’t far behind. He turned her over on her hands and knees and put his still-hard cock back inside her, fucking her from behind. They collapsed in a tangle of limbs as he finished. The ringing of the bell woke them from a doze, and they dressed in a panic. He gave her a final kiss before sending her on to class. He went to the gym, because he had P.E. first period. All day, he kept seeing the woman in the black Piccolo costume at random moments outside of classes, but no one else seemed to see her.
“Master, you look nervous. Are you all right?” Joannie asked as she joined him for the bus ride to his house. They had homework in history today, and studying was a perfect excuse to be together.
“There’s this weird lady who’s been showing up all day.” he admitted.
“The one in the black costume with the shoulder-pads, cape and turban?” Joannie asked.
“You’ve seen her, too?” Thomas asked.
“She’s creepy, Master.” Joannie said in a scared, little-girl voice.
“You get no argument from me on that one, sweetie.” he said, kissing her without regard for whatever authority figures might be watching.
“Creepy? I prefer ‘fashionably eccentric.’” a cruel voice said behind them. Thomas turned and saw the woman. She muttered harsh syllables that didn’t sound like Latin. Black lightning crackled at her fingertips. Thomas put himself between the woman and Joannie, trusting his medallion to do its thing. The spell bounced off him, and the woman barely managed to dodge in time. The magic destroyed the wall behind where she had been standing. She glared at Thomas and vanished again. Thomas turned back around, and the woman was there, with a knife. “Well, there’s always the old-fashioned way.” the woman said, plunging the blade into Joannie’s chest, drawing a scream from the girl. She pulled it out and licked Joannie’s blood off the blade before vanishing again with an evil laugh. Joannie collapsed into Thomas’ arms.
“No!” Thomas wailed, holding her close.
“Master...I love you.” she whispered. Thomas wished, with every fiber of his being, for knowledge of a single decent healing spell, or some way to call Charlie so he could work one. His hand clasped the wound in Joannie’s chest, trying to stop the flow of blood. He thought it was glowing, but he couldn’t be sure, tear-blinded as he was. He felt weak, as if he was the one bleeding. He passed out.
“Hey, little bro, come on, wake up!”
With a Herculean effort of will, Thomas managed to get his eyelids open. Charlie was standing over him, smiling. “Hey, welcome back! You gave us all a scare, there!”
“She’s fine.” Charlie responded, tousling Thomas’ hair. “Better than fine, actually. Hell of a way to find out you’ve got a natural healing affinity.”
“I...healed her?” Thomas asked.
“Yeah, you healed her stab wound, her appendectomy scar, the little scar in her palm from when she accidentally stuck herself with a pointy stick in second grade, and you even re-grew her appendix. Overachiever.” Thomas relaxed, glad that Joannie was alive. “Hey, don’t zonk out again, bro. You’re suffering acute exhaustion—brought on by overextending your magical reserves.”
“You ran your battery dry.” Charlie responded. He picked up Thomas’ hands in both of his, and began to instruct him on how to draw in magical energy from outside sources, transferring some of his own energy to Thomas. Thomas could see his own aura, a soft, gentle green, and the gold of his brother’s energy as it flowed into him, turning green as Thomas made it his own.
“Thanks for the jump-start, Charlie.” Thomas said.
“I’d better get your girlfriend in here before she cries herself to dehydration.” Charlie said, and left. Joannie ran into the room, wearing a T-shirt the same color her top had been. She dove into bed and kissed him joyfully. Making sure there was no one looking, he lifted her shirt with one hand, running the fingers of the other hand over the place where the knife had gone in. Joannie’s smile managed somehow to convey even more love, devotion and even worship than ever before. Thomas let the shirt drop and hugged her close. Tears of relief and joy moistened the front of his hospital gown. Thomas reached out with one hand, grasping the room’s water pitcher, and poured a glass of water. He have her two full glasses before drinking any himself. Joannie managed, somehow, to be more eloquent in her adoring silence than if she had talked herself hoarse. She lay curled in his arms, her ear pressed against his chest, her hand just over his heart. Thomas closed his eyes, enjoying the warmth of her, both physically and emotionally.
They must have drifted off to sleep, because soon enough the doctor was waking them up so he could eat. The food was awful, but the company made up for it. Especially when she stretched. Eventually, however, her father came to pick her up. After that, only family and wizards showed up. Sanna and Marilyn took turns giving him pointers and recharging his magical reserves.
Thomas was released a couple of days later. Thomas had his mother pull into a used book store, where he bought some pre-med textbooks. He figured, if he was going to be a healer, he should probably know more about the human body. His parents seemed to approve.
Ivory let her eyes flutter open. Her head felt empty. Well, not quite empty, but not as stuffed as it had been. The earliest memory she could call to mind was of waking up for the first time as Master’s slave. All the bad memories were gone—the memories from that other, bad person. She couldn’t even call the other’s name to mind. She remembered the torment she’d felt at having those memories in her head, and asking Master to help her get rid of them.
“All gone?” Master asked. Ivory smiled. The darkness was gone, and she felt purified. She nuzzled affectionately against her owner’s leg.
“All gone, My Master.” she said lovingly. Master handed what looked like a glass orb full of smoky water to another of his slaves, Sanna, who took it away. She rose to her feet at his direction, her legs tingling and wobbly from kneeling for so long. Master helped her get to the room she shared with Venna and Sheena, and eased her into the bed.
“Rest, now, Ivory. This ordeal has drained you more than you know.” Master said.
“As you command, Master.” Ivory said. She closed her eyes and sank into sleep.
Charlie went to the parlor. Camber was getting bolder in his walking, and his father’s arrival provided incentive for the child to cross the room to him. Charlie scooped the boy into his arms and carried him to the easy chair. He didn’t feel like chasing a healthy and active toddler all over the place—removing the memories and personality of Albina, leaving behind only the slave-girl Ivory, had been persnickety work, and he felt like he’d just taken seven major finals, done his taxes and assembled a computer piece-by-piece. Camber grabbed hold of Charlie’s fingers, trying to open his hand. Charlie let his fingers uncurl. The Mark in his palm glowed. Camber patted it a few times with his tiny hands. The other children had noticed him, and were toddling or crawling in his direction.
“Heads up, Camber, we’re about to be boarded.” he whispered. Soon they were, and the chair was piled high with youngsters who crawled all over their father.
Morganna watched the disgustingly happy scene in her scrying pool. It was a passive scrying centered on a location rather than a person. Only the freakishly sensitive would be able to detect it, but it had its limits—for one thing, she would have to re-weave the spell to change viewpoints, and would be vulnerable to detection while she did it. A cloudy cataract moved across the pool’s vision, but it was no flaw in the spell. That little niece of Charlie’s was wearing her stealth charm. Morganna growled as the girl climbed into the chair with everyone else, extending the charm’s protection to the whole pile. Charlie spoke, but because of the dark magic that fueled the pool, the child’s charm warped and distorted the words. Just her luck, even Amelie bent over into the charm’s protective area before saying anything. She scooped the children up and deposited them on the couch. Charlie got up and went to his bedroom, which was shielded.
The Myrdhynns now had access to everything Albina had known, though it would take time to put the shards of the woman’s mind back together in an accessible form. She would have to nip that in the bud—along with a few other things. As for the child, the little niece who practically glowed with sheer potential when her charm was off...Well, there were ways around everything, even stealth charms.
“Gort, I want you to take hostage the daughter of a skilled private investigator. I want the niece.” she said.
“Mistress.” the selected M’rdread said with a bow, and vanished.
“Dunkelgeist, I want the orb with Albina’s memories—preferably BEFORE the Myrdhynns manage to reassemble the shards into something useful. Take as many as you need to get the job done.”
“Mistress.” the other responded, vanishing as quickly as the other.
“Charlie is mine.” she said, grinning evilly.
Charlie strode into the Gate-Tree Annemarie had showed him, and came out in Central Park, in Manhattan. His grandfather had more things for him to collect here—thankfully nothing as evil as what he’d had in that sutra-stickered storage unit—and the Tree enabled him to travel here without the need to bother with the increasingly odious TSA. He had gone down into the subway station, which was predictably crowded, when suddenly the world went photo-negative, and everyone vanished.
Uh-oh! Charlie thought. He couldn’t feel anything from the Mark in his hand—which probably meant that he was cut off from that power source. He headed back for the street, but bounced off a force field at the entrance. “Great.” With that avenue cut off, he made for the platform instead, vaulting the turnstiles. Here, at least, he would have some room to maneuver.
He heard the sound of footsteps approaching, metal on metal, as if the owners were walking on the rails. A female in white armor with light-blue hair, black skin and Piccolo-type shoulder pads and turban appeared from the whiteness of the tunnel. If Charlie remembered his art classes correctly, her real skin was pale white, and her hair would be dark red. The female sneered and removed her right gauntlet, grasping the pointed sword-handle on her belt. A blade of blindingly white light emerged from the handle. She leaped at him, slashing viciously, but Charlie was already on the move as soon as she committed herself. The photo-negative effect made the woman’s eyes blood-red.
“I can see you’re a M’rdread. Would you by any chance happen to be Morganna?” Charlie asked.
“As a matter of fact, I am.” she said in a sweet voice. “Of course, I’m only telling you because you have the right to know the name of YOUR KILLER!” Her voice had risen to a feral growl as she had said that. Charlie dodged again, glad he’d had Hato teach him some tricks. Morganna lunged again. Charlie fell on his back and used his legs and her momentum to throw her into a pillar. She flipped quickly to her feet and growled. “You’re a pain!” Morganna snarled.
“You too, sugah.” Charlie drawled, putting as much stereotypical Texan accent as he could into the words. Black lightning lashed out from his hands, but she blocked with her blade. She winced, though. “That looks like it hurts.” he said.
“You needn’t concern yourself with my comfort!” Morganna snarled. Charlie shrugged. If her weapon hurt her, or drained her, maybe he could draw this out and strike while she was weak. He ducked behind a pillar as she charged, and reached into his backpack. His hand hit leather.
“Fuck.” he whispered to himself, dodging wherever Morganna tried to strike. He used a spell he’d learned from Amelie, and his negative-shadow brightened, then reached out, grabbing hold of Morganna’s. One arm formed into a hammer and struck her to the ground. Bright-white light flared out of her, knocking Charlie back.
“That’s not a spell the Myrdhynns teach.” Morganna remarked.
“Not all my teachers are Myrdhynns.” Charlie responded.
“Here, let me show you how it’s done.” Morganna said, and her own shadow lashed out. Charlie made his shadow parry her blows, then contracted it into a shield around himself. Another spell that ordinarily would have made it absolutely black turned it into a shining white flare. Morganna screamed. Charlie normalized his shadow and charged at Morganna. His fist connected with her temple, and she went down. The photo-negative effect vanished, and Charlie was jostled by rush-hour commuters. Several people tripped over Morganna, and the press of commuters took Charlie away from her. He got on the train that would take him to where his grandfather’s things were stored. He reached into his pack again, and felt the pocket dimension’s contents as normal, and he also felt the pulse of the Mark in his hand.
Back on the platform, Morganna groaned and fought her way back to consciousness. She put the sword away, allowing blood to drip onto the concrete from the punctures in her palm. Her quarry wasn’t afraid to fight dirty. She smirked. This could be fun. She made a black portal appear under her feet, and slipped away through that.
Charlie wasn’t alone when he arrived at the bank. The face of the man ripping safe-deposit boxes out of the wall looked like his asshole uncle, but twisted with rage and hate. “Excuse me, but that’s not yours.”
“It is.” his uncle retorted—or whatever was controlling his body. He turned toward Charlie, his eyes nothing but blood-red orbs. “These items are power, and all power belongs to ME!” Crimson lightning lashed out from his fingers, as a scarlet corona appeared around his body like the golden one of a Super Saiyan. Charlie gave his uncle a taste of his own lightning, followed by ice, fire, water, more ice, shadow-play and illusions. “Is that the best you’ve got?” the demonic voice of his uncle demanded.
“Not quite!” Charlie responded, pointing his right palm at his uncle’s chest and letting fly, though he kept the beam narrow. It crashed through his uncle’s hastily-erected shield like an armored truck through a glass storefront and blasted a hole through his torso. He nearly retched as his uncle’s body decayed like a time-lapse of a cadaver in a sealed car in the Texas summer sun. He called wind to carry the smell away, and grabbed the safe-deposit box as quickly as possible. He emptied the box into his backpack and gave it to the first bank employee he encountered, along with the key. “I hope that guy that was trying to rob the place didn’t hurt anyone.” he said.
“He bitch-slapped two of ours security guards over twenty feet and broke their necks!” the employee exclaimed. “How could he have done that?”
“Drugs, probably.” Charlie responded. He knew the real reason, of course: blood-magic. Every ounce of power was paid for in pain and suffering, and it poisoned the mind and soul, eating away at all that was good about the user until all that was left was the desire for more power.
“Drugs? I’ve never seen drugs that could do that!”
“Well the only other option I can think of is dark magic, and I think we both know that doesn’t exist.” Charlie replied, doing his best to make it seem as if he thought the very idea of magic was ludicrous.
“Hello again, sweetie!” Morganna’s voice chimed. “We haven’t finished our dance!”
“Run.” he told the bank employee, as Morganna fired up her dark sword again. Suddenly, a stallion with a rich, brown coat galloped into the bank, shattering a window as he came. He kicked Morganna in her armored chest and sent her out through another hole.
Get on! the horse—or whatever it was—urged. Charlie complied, though he knew he was no one’s horseman. The horse rushed out through his original hole and took off down the street. I am Gaius. Hold on! Gaius took a flying leap which sent them sailing over a red light at an intersection. He lost little speed in landing, so Charlie only broke his nose against the creature’s neck. Sorry about that. Charlie didn’t answer. He was too busy healing himself. Gaius warned Charlie in time for him to grab the horse’s neck before he changed direction. They headed back for the park and barely checked their speed as they dashed through the Gate Tree. Then Gaius galloped back toward Charlie’s house as if he’d been there a million times. He came to a stop and sent Charlie flying off over his head. Oops, sorry. I forgot how much you suck at riding horses.
“You’re a damn liar!” Charlie groaned, picking himself up. “You did that on purpose!”
All right, maybe I did. the horse-shaped creature responded, pawing at the front walk with his silver hooves that chimed like bells. The truth is, I only helped you for my sister’s sake.
“Sister?” Charlie asked. A second horse appeared, this one a chestnut mare with blue orbs for eyes. The Mark of Atlantis was on her forehead. Gaius tried to keep him from touching her, but she nipped at his flanks and chased him around the yard. Then she walked up to Charlie and nuzzled against him. The Mark turned silver, and she sighed, then nuzzled against him even more affectionately. “Vena? Is that your name?” he asked. She nodded, then shrank and changed to a human shape. Her skin was still the same chestnut color as before, but not she was a voluptuous woman worthy of modeling for any old master’s Venus. Her thick, black hair extended all the way down to her ankles and flowed over her body like dark water. Gaius whickered over by the fence, nervously.
“It’s all right, Gaius. Charlie will take care of me now, and I will take care of him.” she said. Gaius snorted, then glared at Charlie.
“I’ll certainly do my best.” Charlie replied, and led Vena into the house.
“Don’t worry about my big brother. He’s just overprotective.” Vena said.
“The overprotective big brothers of attractive young women are very much to be worried about in my experience.” Charlie responded, rubbing at his left bicep and remembering an ex-girlfriend whose older brother had broken his arm to keep him from making his date with her. It didn’t hurt in the winter time anymore, now that he had magical women around who were better at healing than old Father Time. Trouble and Marea were waiting in the bedroom. Charlie closed the door and willed the three to pleasure each other. They climbed onto the bed and arranged themselves in a triangle, mouth-to-pussy, and began to lick and moan. Hands reached across the gap between them, fondling breasts. Charlie waited until they had all cum at least once before he joined them. Neya moaned as she slid onto his cock, and started playing with her breasts, allowing Charlie to control her hip movement. She hissed briefly as her hymen broke, and then she devoted herself to his pleasure. Marea and Trouble took over Neya’s breast stimulation, using their mouths to please her, and their fingers diddled with her clit to enhance her pleasure there as well. She came hard, and Charlie let himself go off inside her. Marea sucked him clean, and then he lay her back and entered her. The only thing in her mind was love and pleasure as he pumped her well, and soon she was cumming hard. Charlie came inside her as she was getting worked up again. Trouble put her mouth at Marea’s pussy and started to lick. Charlie inserted himself in her, taking her tail-posture as an invitation. Trouble fucked her hips back against him, lost in passion. She came twice, brought Marea to two orgasms with her mouth, and passed out. The other two went to sleep as soon as Charlie decided he wanted them to. He showered and dressed, then went to the living room, where he had left his backpack sitting out. Sanna, Amelie and Annemarie were already going through what he’d gotten in New York.
“Nice haul.” Annemarie remarked. She unfolded a couple of boxes, climbed into one, and climbed out the other. “These vanishing boxes were mostly used by performing mages before tricksters figured out how to make it look like they could do the same thing. You can set them somewhere far apart and it’s like a temporary version of the shifting-closet spell Amelie uses to go from one of her houses to another.”
“Can you use them while the boxes are moving?” Charlie asked.
“Yes, but if one box is destroyed—like if the car it’s in crashes and burns—then the other becomes useless. Well, unless you just happen to need a collapsing box.”
“Don’t tell me this is a Dragon Ball.” Charlie muttered, picking up a softball-sized orange orb. Actually, he noticed that it was a clear orb filled with orange fluid, and something was floating inside it, precisely centered. Charlie dropped it when he realized that it was a finger, with bits of flesh still clinging to the hacked-off end. Sanna caught it before it could shatter.
“It is—or was—a locator. Somebody wanted to keep tabs on someone really bad.” Sanna put the gruesome thing aside. “You have to make an exact carving of the person, precise to the smallest detail. Then you have to kill a maiden Elf and take her right index finger before her soul gets too far away. Whoever it was keyed to is either dead or shielded somehow, since it’s not staying steady when we turn it.”
“That’s disgusting.” Charlie said.
“Usually when we find these, we arrange for them to be sent to Avalon, so that Oberon can take care of the situation. Your grandfather didn’t know how.” She closed her eyes and chanted a long, involved Latin spell. Soon, the disgusting orb was gone. Charlie shivered.
“’Deck of summoning, won in card game, need to figure out how to release elf girl.’” Annemarie read. Charlie took the Deck from Annemarie and looked through it. Sure enough, there was an Elf girl imprisoned in one of the cards. Unlike the animals, monsters and dinosaurs in his own Deck, he could feel the mind of the girl as she had been the last time she’d been put back into the card.
“Poor kid’s miserable. She’s...been used as a sex toy by at least one former master.” Considering the girl’s apparent age, far below the human age of consent, Charlie found that even more disgusting than the hacked-off finger. He continued looking through the Deck and found an Ogre, a golden Dragon, a female Vampire, a Giant and a Troll, which he separated out from the Deck. The less-offensive cards, a Wyvern, a Kraken, a Pegasus, a Manticore, a Hydra, a Basilisk, a bat-winged boar that breathed fire, a Snowcat (a minor demon in the form of a white panther the size of a Clydesdale), a Black Tiger, a Griffin, a Quetzalcoatl (kind of like a Wyvern with feathered wings and no legs, that tapped into elemental magic for its attacks and was slightly smarter than them, but not yet sentient as Dragons were), two dozen species of medium and large nonmagical land-predators, as well as a flock of bats all contained on a single card, a murder of crows, a golden eagle, a condor and biggest fucking crocodile Charlie had ever read about, went into Charlie’s own Deck, mixed in with the dinosaurs and other creatures.
“I know a spell to release the beings in those cards, but we must prepare first.” Annemarie said.
“What do we need?” Charlie asked. One of the advantages to marrying a rich woman was that money wasn’t a problem.
“Food and time, mostly.” Annemarie said. “They’ll be ravenous when you release them—they haven’t eaten since they were put in the cards, and releasing them will cut them off from the magic that has sustained them since then. We’ll have to limit each victim’s volition to keep them from overeating at first.”
“But if they’re so hungry...” Amelie began.
“Sis, you’ve done enough high ritual magic to know what happens if you overeat after a long fast.” Annemarie interrupted. She kept glancing to where the Elf-child’s card sat on the coffee table. Charlie seated himself beside her and put his arm around her shoulder.
“Mama!” Camber called from the top of the stairs. His parents looked up to see him holding onto the wooden supports of the railing as he carefully negotiated the steps. Amelie rose and waited for him at the mid-way landing, scooping him into her arms when he arrived.
“Oh, there he is!” Chelsea Smithe called down, her tail lashing in irritation. “The little scamp must have slipped out of the nursery when I came in to relieve Ivory.” Camber started to squirm when Amelie walked up the stairs instead of down, and cried when he was returned to the nursery. She fled to the master bedroom once the door closed on the baby’s piteous wailing of her title.
“Children have a way of doing that.” Sanna observed. “Especially your own.” Charlie rose and followed Amelie. He found her drying her eyes with a tissue.
“I’ll be okay.” she said softly. “He just has a way of tugging at my heart-strings, that’s all.”
“That’s what kids do best.” Charlie responded, and put his arms around her, kissing her softly on the lips. She returned his kiss with passion, and broke off only long enough to pull her shirt off over her head. She moaned as he began to caress her breasts, then reached behind her to unhook her bra with a practiced hand. It immediately joined her shirt on the floor, and then she was kicking off her sneakers and socks while he undid her pants, and pulled them down her legs along with her panties.
“What is your desire, Master?” she asked, her eyes pleading for commands as she stood naked before him. Charlie smiled, kissed her forehead, and told her to take off his shirt. She obeyed, lovingly caressing his torso as she revealed it. He told her to kneel and take off his shoes and socks, and she obeyed. He lifted each foot as she came to it to make it easier. She kissed each foot as it was bared to her, and shivered in desire as she looked up to him for more commands, knowing what was coming, but waiting for his initiative.
“Now my pants, little slave-girl.” he said. She shivered.
“Yes, Master.” she responded, reaching up reverently to unsnap his jeans. She caressed his legs as the garment slid down them. He stepped out of them rather than leave them bunched at his ankles.
“Now my underwear.” he said.
“Yes, Master.” she responded, returning to his waist to drag his underwear down. She shuddered in a small orgasm as his hard cock sprang out.
“Kiss it.” he said.
“Yes, Master.” she responded, kissing the head of his cock, then kissing her way down the shaft on one side, then up the shaft on the other before returning to the head.
“Finish with my underwear, pet.” he said, and she obeyed, kissing her way lovingly down his legs as the garment slid down them. She kissed his feet again as he stepped out of his underwear. “Now, crawl into bed.”
“Yes, Master.” she responded, and obeyed, crawling as humbly as she was able—and she had had a lot of practice at being humble. He watched as she knelt on the bed, humbly as she could, waiting for instructions, wondering how he wanted her. He climbed into the bed and kissed her. She moaned into his mouth as he caressed her body, then lay her back and opened her legs to grant himself access. His cock slid into her pussy like a hand in a familiar glove. “I love you, Master.” she sighed as he filled her.
“I love you too, Amelie.” he replied, then began moving his hips in practiced ways to drive her crazy with pleasure. He made a private wager with himself as to how many times she would cum before he finished. She gripped the bedspread and came hard. He played with her breasts while she was calming down from that, and sent her to ecstasy again. In all, she came four times before he ejaculated into her, which set off a fifth. He smiled. He’d exceeded his guess by one. “Now, Amelie, on your hands and knees.” he said as he pulled out.
“Yes, Master.” she said weakly, and presented her backside to him. He slid back into her pussy for round two. Her eyes crossed as she came again and again and again, sometimes biting her lower lip, sometimes biting the pillow, sometimes just making mindless animal noises. He fired his seed into her again, and she passed out.
“All this time, and I can still fuck you unconscious.” he chuckled, kissing her reposed cheek. “All this time?” he thought to himself, laying on his back beside her. Come to think of it, this was the longest continuous relationship he’d ever had with a woman. If anyone had told him in his senior year of high school that he would have a harem like this, he would have pointed to several Japanese harem-comedy anime as an example of why it wouldn’t work. Of course, his younger self would have been quite jealous of him now. He covered his naked, sweaty slave-wife with the blankets and went for a shower.
He dried off and got dressed again, then slipped out of the room quietly. Annemarie was sitting in a corner with one of her spellbooks, making sure she had the spell to release a being from a Card of Summoning correct and complete in her mind. Sanna had what appeared to be half a spellbook in her lap.
“What’s that?” he asked.
“Pages two hundred six through three hundred four of some grimoire, but I don’t know the title because the spine is gone. I’m not familiar with the handwriting, and the spells are in the most peculiar dialect of old Russian I have EVER run across.” Sanna responded.
“Well, what kind of spells are in it? Maybe we can figure out the character of the mage by the kinds of spells he kept.”
“That’s a good idea, Master, but unfortunately I don’t know enough about this language to guess that, I’m afraid. I thought I knew all the Eurasian languages, but apparently I missed one.” She sighed, and Charlie echoed her sigh. They both smiled, and he went to the kitchen to get everyone a beer.
Steve panted as he ran, not daring to look back. He’d seen enough movies to be able to figure out what was chasing him, and that he was in deep shit if he got caught. But what were his chances of outrunning the beast? That annoying, pessimistic voice in the back of his head said “none and nada,” but simple animal instinct forced him to try, even if it meant he’d only die tired. The werewolf howled as it sprang into the air. Hearing it above him, he took a chance and ran to the left, through an alley that led to a busier street. A policeman walking patrol tried to stop him, but the werewolf growled and the officer, deciding Steve had a good reason to be running, tried shooting the creature with his gun while calling for backup with his radio. The werewolf pounced, only annoyed by the non-silver bullets, and ripped the officer to pieces.
“No! No! Get off him! Chase THAT one!” shrilled the sorceress who had summoned the werewolf. People screamed and ran, and in the confusion, Steve managed to put some distance between himself and his pursuer. He could hear the wolf howling as it took up the chase again. He made it to the Wal-Mart parking lot and pushed himself harder. He was going too fast for the automatic doors to open in time, and bounced off, but picked himself up and dashed inside. He headed straight for the outdoor section. Maybe they didn’t have any silver bullets—or even bullet-running kits if he could find some silver jewelry to melt—but maybe the thing would die if he could take its head off.
He heard the screaming as the werewolf burst into the store, howling as it stood on top of the remains of the doors. Then it took up the scent and headed further inside. He could hear the sorceress goading the thing on and forcing it to ignore everyone but the prey she had chosen. Why the redheaded skank in the armored version of Piccolo’s costume wanted to sic a werewolf on him when she could more easily turn him into a pile of ashes, Steve couldn’t guess—unless she somehow knew that Charlie had given Steve a magic-catching sword. He opened a box of circular saw blades and, once the werewolf showed its face, he flung the thing frisbee-like at it. The wolf grabbed it out of the air, and Steve drew his sword. Charlie was a beginner at smithing, but the blade would hold an edge for a while, anyway. The wolf lunged, and Steve dodged to the side, cutting its neck with the sword. He failed to cut deep enough, however, and the wound closed almost immediately. Cursing, he swung harder, but the blade hung in a vertebra. The wolf knocked him away with a roundhouse punch, but Steve managed to hold onto the sword. The werewolf was mad now. Two security guards grabbed rifles and bullets from sporting goods and loaded them. Steve took off in the direction of the sorceress, hoping to force her to use attack-magic to defend herself. The woman merely teleported to the top of a shelf and shook her finger at him, like a teacher scolding a child. The werewolf came around the corner, holding one of the security guards by the throat as gaping wounds closed on its sides. It gave its head a shake, snapping the guard’s neck. Steve tried climbing the shelf. He needed the sorceress to charge up the sword, but she only teleported again. The wolf leapt, grabbing Steve’s arm in its jaws. He screamed in pain. The wolf dragged him around the store, banging his head against anything it could find until he lost consciousness.
He awoke in the hospital, his right arm bandaged, but still intact.
“Man, are you lucky!” said a nurse. “Animal control is still trying to find whatever got you, but it could be worse. You could have ended up like that cop and those security guards. What were you doing with that crappy reproduction sword, anyway?”
“The sword...where is it?” Steve asked.
“The police have it. They want to have a talk with you about carrying blades longer than three inches.”
“Dude, I’m in trouble.” said Steve’s voice when Charlie checked his voice mail. “I got bit by a werewolf, and the cops won’t give me back the magic-catching sword. I’m in room 1414 at Baylor Hospital. Can you help me out? The wife and son were fine last time I checked, but I’m worried. That bitch who summoned the werewolf knew not to try throwing any magic at me.”
“Ah, hell.” Charlie said. He had to be careful what he said—the Elf-girl was out of her card, but her will was suppressed to keep her from overeating too soon. Annemarie was helping her sip broth. “Sanna, we have a werewolf problem and a confiscated sword to recover.”
“Which does Master want to tackle first?” Sanna asked.
“Steve’s in room 1414 at Baylor Hospital. I’ve been to the police station in that town, so I can deal with the cops. See if you can get Steve to tell you more about the werewolf that bit him and the bitch who summoned it.”
“Yes, Master.” Sanna responded. She teleported to a house she knew in Waco and from there took a cab to the hospital. Charlie teleported to the police station, focusing on a familiar stain on the ceiling of one of the cells that looked like someone had put a pair of saggy breasts on Texas. There were four guys in the cell, but they were all asleep. Charlie used a spell to open the cell and stepped out quietly, then closed it, though the door made a noise as the latch re-closed.
“How the hell did YOU get in here?” demanded an officer. Charlie muttered a spell and the officer’s eyes glazed over. It wasn’t as obvious as the one Amelie had bounced off him when they’d first met, which was all to the good.
“You confiscated a sword from a friend of mine. I need it back. You will get it for me.”
“I will get it for you.” responded the officer, who sort of shambled to the evidence locker.
“Hey, you can’t be in here!” said the officer guarding the evidence locker. He pulled his tazer. Charlie erected a quick barrier, and the tazer’s electric leads bounced off. Then Charlie put the guard to sleep. The other officer came in with the sword in a tagged bag, and handed it over.
“Very good. Now, go destroy the security footage and forget the last half hour.” Charlie said, muttering the finishing charm so the spell would break after the officer had completed all of his commands. He erased the guard’s memories of the intrusion and teleported to Steve’s house.
“Charlie!” Claudia exclaimed.
“Unca Cha’ie!” Luke called happily, running into Charlie’s arms. Charlie hugged the toddler, then stood and handed the baby and the sword to Claudia.
“Steve is in the hospital, and I’m worried.” Claudia said. She was under instructions from Steve not to refer to him as Master in front of strangers or their children.
“I’ve got someone taking care of that now.” Charlie said.
“He was in Waco buying something for Luke at a specialty shop he knew from when he lived there, but...” She stopped, overcome with emotion. Charlie hugged the woman and her child.
“I sent one of my best magic-users to help him out. In the meantime, I’m going to make sure Steve doesn’t lose either of you.” he said. Claudia smiled and wiped her eyes.
“...And that’s all I remember.” Steve said. Sanna had healed the bite on his arm, but a nasty-looking scar remained.
“This is very bad.” Marilyn said. “Obviously, Morganna plans to force you to kill your friend—or have him killed.”
“Is there a way to cure the werewolf curse without killing me?” Steve asked. “Not dying is really high on my agenda, know what I mean?”
“As with many curses, there is an easy way to lift it, and a hard way. The easy way is a kill-shot with a silver bullet. The hard way is for you to eat the still-beating heart of the werewolf who bit you.”
“It has to still be beating?” Steve asked, turning a little green.
“Yes, it has to still be beating.” Marilyn said. “You should know that you’ll be haunted by the angry ghosts of anyone you kill while you’re a werewolf even after you’re cured, if you manage it. However, if you do manage to cure yourself the hard way, any other werewolves bitten by that wolf will also be cured. So you could be cured by someone else who was bitten by the same wolf.”
“Okay, all we have to do is track down the wolf who bit you.” Charlie said.
“One problem, dude: If this bitch is doing this to force you to kill me, she may be keeping him somewhere I can’t get to. I mean, that’s what I’d do if I was an evil bitch who could summon werewolves out of cards.”
“A Deck of Summoning?” Marilyn asked. “That makes it even harder. Morganna isn’t some neophyte to be fooled by something as obvious as changing the wards around all your houses so nothing evil except a werewolf from a Deck of Summoning can get in.”
“You’d be surprised. She may be so insulted by it she’ll throw her wolf in anyway.” Charlie said.
“Or, she’ll use a different wolf.” Marilyn said.
“Steve, I’ll need to borrow a little blood, if you don’t mind.” Charlie said.
“Oh, how utterly obvious!” Morganna huffed. “Does he think I’m going to fall for that trick? What kind of idiot does he think I am? Binding the wards to his friend’s blood so I can only send in the werewolf who bit him. That might have worked on his wife’s former self, but I’m not so gullible.”
“However, you are egotistical and prone to ranting, stepsister.” Marilyn said. Morganna whirled.
“You were a fool to come here, stepsister! I’ve had longer to recover from my imprisonment than you have!”
“I have always recovered from adversity faster.” Marilyn retorted.
“Humph! I don’t have time for this! I’ll kill you later, AFTER I’ve destroyed everything you care about!” Morganna responded. She cast the spell to teleport herself back to the M’rdread Mother Chapter House, but it failed, and the backlash caused her a blinding headache. She jumped back and to the side as her stepsister threw an enchanted knife at her.
“Failed spells hurt like hell, don’t they, sister?” Marilyn taunted. “There’s a ward around the town so you can teleport in, but not out. Think you can make it to the city limits?”
“I’m well able for it, sister.” Morganna spat.
“Good, then let’s play the game on Hard Mode.” Charlie said. He pulled his Deck of Summoning out of his pocket. “Grimlock the Tyrannosaurus Rex, I summon you!” He threw the card to the ground, and a giant T-rex appeared, roaring ferociously. Morganna tried a death-spell, but it failed as well, and she screamed at the agony the failure caused her. Grimlock lunged, but Morganna rolled away and ran through an alley to escape the beast, though she was wobbling on her feet from the pain in her head. She heard Charlie summoning his Raptor Pack and Deinonychus Pack from their cards and picked up the pace. Such a clever trap they’d set! She would have to congratulate them with a particularly agonizing death. She couldn’t teleport, she couldn’t use her death-spells, and two failures in a row made her leery of trying other hostile magic until she had seen her opponents try some, or she had leisure to study the wards they’d placed around the town.
Around the town...she had to try for the city limits. Perhaps Charlie’s reluctance to damage property would keep her safe from the larger predators, but Charlie had access to smaller ones, too. She called a wind to her aid and was able to fly up to the roof of the building—but she had to waste concentration maintaining the whirlwind’s strength to keep winged beasts off herself—not only a pterosaur, but somehow he’d gotten his hands on a Wyvern, a Gryphon and other flying beasts. A Quetzalcoatl used its limited elemental magic to interfere with her own, but she staved it off by making the air around herself extremely cold, which repelled the cold-blooded creatures until a Winged Boar appeared to warm the air for them with its flaming breath. The T-rex appeared next to the building, followed by an allosaurus and a spinosaurus, a torvosaurus and other gigantic therapods. Morganna swore she’d drag Charlie and all his traceable relations face-down through every pit of hell if she ever got out of this.
Venna and Sheena undid the magical protections around Morganna’s room carefully. The Mother Chapter House was well-known to them, and Morganna had apparently not added to the enchantments Albina had used. The door came open, and the two crept cautiously inside. They had come and confiscated Albina’s belongings along with their own when they had become Charlie’s, but now the room was full again—with Morganna’s things. Venna searched while Sheena guarded the door. The search seemed to take hours as Venna carefully opened each of the many drawers in her desk, wary of magical traps.
“Feel that?” Sheena asked.
“It’s Him.” Venna confirmed. She found a deck box and opened it. It was empty. She put her finger into the box to make sure it wasn’t just hidden. “The Deck isn’t here.”
“Were you expecting it to be?” a male voice asked. Venna and Sheena turned to find Mordred, the nephew/son of King Arthur whose soul was now housed in the body of a Drow, standing in the middle of the room, dressed in the attire of the Order. “Little chickies want to party? Maybe I’ll make your faces warty!” So saying, he gestured at the two ex-M’rdread sorceresses, and energy crackled around them, but the magic bounced, thanks to the warded charms they wore, copies of Charlie’s tattoo, and Mordred’s blue face sprouted all the warts of every toad enclosure in every zoo in America. The two women took advantage of the distraction to beat a hasty retreat. Once they were outside of Morganna’s room, they teleported back to their Master’s house.
“Did you find it?” Sanna asked.
“No.” Venna reported.
“Mordred found us.” Sheena added.
“We had already confirmed that the Deck wasn’t in Morganna’s room. He seems to be wary of having his magic interfered with by cold iron and protective marks like Master’s so he only cast a wart spell.” Venna said. Something sliced open the wards, then cut through the front door.
“Surprise!” chimed Morganna. Sanna looked at the scrying mirror, seeing that Morganna was still being chased by Charlie and Marilyn back in America. The Morganna here was armed with an evil blade, however. She had to take off her right gauntlet to wield it, and it sank metal spikes into her palm, which brought forth the dark-energy blade.
“Blood magic. I’m surprised you’d resort to that. I thought M’rdread mages were smarter.” Sanna said.
“It cuts through wards—among other things.” said Morganna, who slashed at Sanna. Sanna dodged, and the blade only destroyed the mirror. Sanna, Venna, Sheena, Annemarie and Amelie were all fighting the dark sorceress then, who used her blade to swat their spells back at them. Then she pounced, trying to cut off Sanna’s head. Her body went limp, and her head rolled off her shoulders. Hato cleaned her sword with a Kleenex and scoffed. The blade handle disappeared from the hand of the corpse. Sanna examined the dead body.
“Very interesting.” was all she said. She examined the corpse for magical traps, but judged it safe to carry it out back and burn it.
“That was too easy.” Hato said.
“It’s not over yet.” Sanna responded.
“Do you think she will rise to attack us again?” Hato asked. “Is that why you want the body burned?”
“From what Marilyn told me, necromancy is not one of Morganna’s talents, though I wouldn’t put it past some of her stauncher adherents. That’s not what worries me, though.”
“Where is Master?” Hato asked. “If Morganna is here, should he not have returned as well?”
“He was still fighting Morganna when THIS Morganna destroyed my favorite scrying mirror.” Sanna said irritably.
“Do you think the one he was fighting was an impostor?” Hato asked.
“I don’t know.” Sanna responded worriedly. Charlie appeared in the living room with Marilyn.
“Did you get her?”
“Some Drow showed up and broke the wards around the town.” Charlie said. “Then he turned all my creatures back into cards and amscrayed with Morganna in a fireman’s carry.”
“I restored the wards with a further protection against breakage by dark beings of all types while Charlie was gathering his cards.” Marilyn added.
“Drow have an irritating habit of finding ways to break or get around human magics.” Sanna said. “Morganna may have found a way around some Drow magic.”
“What do you mean?” Charlie asked.
“You know enough about blood magic to know that most sane mages steer clear of it. The Morganna who showed up here had a sword of dark light, powered by her blood and reeking of Drow. If Mordred made that so she would be the only one who could wield it, so she couldn’t just hand it off to one of her underlings, maybe she has found a way to make a full transformation from one person into herself, body, mind, heart and soul.”
“Clever and utterly despicable.” Charlie remarked. “And probably no way to tell how many people she’s turned into clones of herself.”
“Not many, I should wager.” Sanna said. “It’s hard being in the presence of anyone altered that way—like being in two places at once. You can ask Amelie how that felt.”
“It was like my life-energy was divided equally between the two of us.” Amelie said. “Me and my younger self. It was as if I was only half of me.” She shivered.
“Keeping more than two of those active at once would require an immense amount of power—backing from a high-level demon, for example.” Sanna said. “Or the mind behind the Crystal of Atlantis.”
“Is there a way to tell which is the original?” Charlie asked.
“There are ways.” Sanna said.
“Good, ‘cause I’ve about had it with that bitch.” Charlie growled. He took a deep breath to calm himself. Then he noticed Sanna’s mirror. “Your favorite scrying mirror?” he asked. Sanna nodded. He gathered her into his arms and kissed her, caressing her body soothingly. “I’ll save a piece for you, too.”
“Just a little one.” Sanna replied, kissing him in return. He laughed, and led Sanna to the bedroom.