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Introduction:

Shemhazau
The mysterious benefactor, Shemhazau Encantado, is not what Lyden expects, nor is the domain of Light where he resides. Will the man be willing to give up Masamune to end Lyden’s curse, or does he have his own plans in place?

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Chapter 23
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Shemhazau

Realization of my actions washes over me with the force of Sheila’s orgasm, and I shudder from more than the throes of my own culmination.

“I’m so sorry,” I murmur, my voice filled with anguish as I pull out of my slave. My cock makes a squelching noise, and some of my sperm drips out of her wet pussy, the globules of the pinkish stuff splattering on the cave floor. The site of my active spunk running from her crotch is driving my guilt deeper.

“Never apologize to your slave, Master. I take it you’re back to normal?” Sheila asks, turning her head to face me.

“As normal as I’ll ever be,” I reply as my legs give way beneath me under the weight of my memories. I had almost killed Lisa! I was going to kill Sheila! My rump smacks the ground, and I burry my head in my hands.

“It’s alright,” Sheila whispers to me as she cradles my head against her soft bare breasts.

“No it’s not!” I scream at her, shoving her away from me. I can’t stand to feel her caring touch right now. I don’t deserve it. “I can’t be trusted! I-I almost killed Lisa, and you. . . . Oh, God, what have I done?”

“I’m fine, Master,” her voice is soothing, but my nerves are too raw. “I can handle what you choose to give me.”

“No, you don’t understand,” I tell her, not modifying my tone. “How can you? I probably just got you pregnant, but I had no choice in the matter!” Her eyes widen as I speak, her hand going to her smooth stomach. “I can choose when to procreate, and I planned on killing you anyway, so didn’t care. In my twisted state, I thought it was some great joke. When you had your orgasm, however, it brought me back. Now it’s too late.”

“Maybe not,” her voice comes out as barely above a whisper, but it still penetrates my gloom. “I’ve been on the pill since my late husband passed away years ago. I will be alright.”

Hope blossoms in my chest at her statement, and I look at her in wonder. I’d never known she was a widow, but thinking back, I should have realized something. The nameplate that sat on her desk said Mrs. Sheila Lance.

“Probably not, though,” a new voice breaks the moment. Looking up, I see Arethusa hovering nearby. “If you really can choose when to reproduce, then that should outweigh any human countermeasures, short of taking physical actions to stop it.” Her matter-of-fact, almost chipper tone feels like a punch to my guts. “What?” she asks as I glare at her. “I followed you back to this putrid cave, and felt you go back to normal. While I have to admit that you’re quite interesting when the sword controls you, it’s also kind of scary. I wouldn’t recommend you use that thing again.”

“Thanks for the advice,” I say laconically, getting back to my feet. Walking over to my clothes, I begin to get dressed. Everyone else shows up just as I pull my pants up, and I can’t bear to look at them.

“Lyden?” Angela says, and I can hear her footsteps come closer to me. I turn away from her, keeping my gaze down as I pick up my shirt.

“Is he okay?” Lisa’s voice asks next, and my heart wrenches at the pain and worry in the small question.

“He’s beating himself up over what he almost did to you, and . . . oh no, Sheila!” Angela says.

“Would you get out of my head!” I demand of the succubus, still not looking up at her.

“As soon as you quit acting like a spoiled child,” her tone makes me whip my head up to look at her, rage burning through me like lava through a tinderbox. Despite her words, I see a smile spread across her face, and I pause long enough to realize what she’s doing.

Nodding, I stand erect, glad to have such friends at my side. “Thank you,” I tell her, and then repeat myself to everyone else. “Thank you.” I turn to Lisa then, guilt once again nearly overcoming me, but she speaks before I get the opportunity.

“It was the sword. I know you would never choose to hurt me on your own. That’s one of the reasons I. . . . Anyway, let’s just concentrate on breaking your curse.” The way she talks so confidently, I know she’s forgiven me, but I can’t help but wonder what she’d been about to say, and at the same time, feel my chest warm at her confidence in me.

Captain Jewkes steps forward, his odd shades perched on his forehead and his piercing eyes sharp above his hooked nose as he looks at me. “They explained the situation as we followed after the little fairy. I’m not very knowledgeable about this magic stuff, but is it something you can hand off? You know, like they did in the “Lord of the Rings” movie?”

“No,” I reply sadly, shaking my head. “I’m afraid it might curse one of you as well. As hard as this is, I can’t condone letting someone else carry this thing.” As I speak, I bend over and pick up the evil blade, buckling it back around my hip. Its voice immediately fills my mind, demanding I kill everyone around me. Closing my eyes, I slowly but methodically force the sound away, until it’s nothing more than an annoying buzz. “We’re getting close to possible relief. As long as I don’t draw it out again, I should be fine.”

He looks doubtfully at me, one eyebrow raised, but I don’t care. I will not burden someone else with Muramasa.

I realize that Sheila is still naked and oddly unconcerned with her state in front of so many people. I have to fight back another wave of jealousy at Thomas openly admiring her, and I move over to help her get dressed. Her shirt is in hopeless tatters, so I offer her mine. It leaves me topless, but it’s warm enough outside that I really don’t need it. I don’t feel like I deserve the smile she bestows upon me, nor the chaste peck she gives my cheek.

I see Areth making gagging faces as she examines the remains of the Orcs, and only then become aware of the awful smell of decay. Without warning I begin to feel claustrophobic and nauseous, forcing me to rush from the cave, to catch a whiff of the clean air outside.

“Any chance we can avoid the border this time?” I ask the large Amazonian woman as she comes up to me.

Her cheeks turn red as she nods, and we head north once again, this time far enough from the border between Earth and Fire to make us all feel more comfortable.

Areth lands on my right shoulder, and for a wonder only whispers in my ear. “I can make sure she doesn’t get pregnant,” she states, and for a moment I’m so shocked at the notion, that I freeze where I’m at.

“You can?” I blurt out, and everyone stops to look at me.

“Dummy,” the pixie chides me, “if I’d wanted to make that public knowledge, I wouldn’t have whispered.”

I look over at my onetime boss, and catch her with her hand on her stomach. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what she’s thinking about. Everyone else is looking at me, but I ignore them.

“It’s up to her,” I mutter and Areth takes off, flying over to my slave. I’m not sure how exactly I feel about the situation. If my power is stronger than her pills, then I got her pregnant, and will take responsibility for it. On the other hand, of all the women I’m currently with, Sheila is the last one I’d have expected to have a child with first.

She’ll use the child against you, Muramasa whispers to me, and I forcefully shove him out of my head. It’s his fault I’m in this situation!

“Master, may I talk with you?” It takes me a moment to work enough moisture into my suddenly dry mouth to reply to Sheila.

“I’m not going to decide for you,” I tell her, trying to preempt her asking me.

“Yes, Master,” she states, brushing a lock of black hair over her ear and looking into the distance. We are well within Earth’s borders this time, but I know that doesn’t mean we’re completely out of danger. “I will decide, but . . . but I want to know how you feel about it.”

I have to unclench my jaw and fists, realizing that she can’t read my thoughts like Angela can. We walk in silence for a bit, before I finally give my answer.

“I want you to be happy.” I look over at her, and for a brief moment our eyes meet, before she bows her head again. “You may be my willing slave, Sheila, but you mean more to me than just that. You’ve saved me from myself twice now. I can never truly repay you for that, nor tell you how much that means to me. As long as you’re happy, I’ll go along with your decision.”

Picking up my pace, I walk away from her. I hear her ask, “Twice?” before I’m out of earshot. Areth stays with her.

AnnaBelle is the next one to approach me, and once again I have to reign in my emotions. I know she means well, but I’m not in any mood to deal with a lecture right now.

“That has to be one of the bravest things I’ve ever seen.” The words spoken so evenly, catch me off guard.

“Huh?” I ask. Yes, eloquence is my forte today.

“I may be old, but my hearing is still plenty sharp,” she states, and I feel my cheeks turn red. “I admit I never thought much of you, and seeing all these other women fawning over you hasn’t helped.” I open my mouth to deliver a scathing retort, but she only pauses long enough to draw in a breath. “But I’ve seen you in action, and I’ve seen how you treat them. Actions speak louder than words, they say. Other than with the influence of that evil thing, that is. I’ve seen how you try hard to protect them, yet you don’t try to control them. You see them as people, not objects, and for someone with your powers, that’s really saying something.” My teeth click as I shut my mouth in stunned silence. “I just wanted you to know I respect you.” Without another word, she walks away.

Now what am I supposed to make of that?

The border between Earth and Light is just as noticeable as the one between Earth and Fire. The main difference being that Light’s landscape seems washed out with faded colors. Earth’s rich verdant green landscape becomes light green, the flowers looking faded and washed out. The whole place seems too bright.

“We will part ways here,” Angela says to the group at large. Becky steps forward to argue, but Angela cuts her off before she can. “We’ve already been through this. If we all go together, Shemhazau will flee. I’m already worried that he’ll take off with just the three of us approaching. If we want to have any chance of saving Lyden, then it has to be only those that must go.”

Thomas and Jewkes nod, seeing the logic in her statement, but Brooke, Lisa, and Becky frown, still not liking it. In the end they have no choice, but end up trying to claim that we could at least just go a bit further, until I lose my patience.

“Enough! The longer you sit here and debate about things, the longer it’ll be before I can be rid of this fucking curse. Angela, Areth, come on. If anyone follows. . . . Well, no one had better follow.” I storm off, letting my dark words hang in the air. Truth is, I’m afraid of what I might do if they don’t listen.

Areth’s weight settles on my shoulder again, and I feel Angela’s comforting presence behind me. I don’t dare look back and make sure my orders are followed.

Despite this being the Pillar of Light’s demesne, the atmosphere here is anything but light. With everything so bright, it actually feels somewhat oppressive. At least the ground is solid. I’d been half afraid that this area would be light particles, and nothing else.

We continue in silence for a while, and I notice that even Areth is remaining silent while she rides upon my shoulder. Unfortunately this leaves me with my thoughts as company, and I can feel my shame increasing from my actions today.

Something seems off, however, as if something is missing. It’s almost too quiet, with the sounds of our footfalls the only audio to fill the air. No birds or bees flutter around, and at first I put the uneasy feeling to having the group suddenly shrink so quickly. But after a couple hours go by, and the feeling doesn’t lessen any, I start thinking it over some more. Arethusa and Angela are still with me, and Muramasa swings easily at my hip. The women look as uneasy as I feel.

Muramasa! His voice has been completely silent since we entered this realm. I’ve grown so accustomed to his constant nattering, that when it vanished, I became uneasy. For the first time in quite a while, a real smile splits my lips, despite my inner turmoil. I even begin to whistle, until Areth tugs on my ear and Angela gives me a worried look and shakes her head.

Just that quickly my almost decent mood vanishes, and I find myself looking at every rock, wondering if its shadow is disproportionate, or if that flower is moving because of the slight breeze or by something else.

It’s with mixed trepidation and relief that I spot a small, old-looking cabin and Angela steers us towards it.

“You know how this place makes you feel?” She asks us in a barely audible whisper, and I nod my head. “Shemhazau Encantado has been living here for centuries. Keep that in mind.”

A couple things seem to click into place in my mind. We’d been told that Masamune makes its owner so relaxed and un-confrontational that they usually just lie down and die. How better to combat that, than living in a place that makes you paranoid?

Why had Muramasa gone silent though? Is it some new ploy to get me to succumb to its evil desires?

Angela gives a series of knocks on the door that I realize must be some sort of code. There is a shuffling noise on the other side of the door and instinctively my hand goes to the hilt of Muramasa.

“No!” Angela hisses at me, at the same time pulling my hand away from the cursed blade.

The door opens a moment later, but I can’t see anyone through the crack. He’s turned off the lights inside.

“Angela?” The voice is a choked whisper. “Lyden,” my name follows a second later, and I can’t tell whether he’s happy or scared out of his wits to see me. “And the fairy, Arethusa. . . . Ah, good, you have the sword.”

His words hit me like a rolling boulder, bowling over me and filling me with shock. Why is he happy about me having the cursed blade? How does he know?

“You already know, then?” Angela asks, her voice barely louder than Shemhazau’s.

“Come in, come in,” he says, opening the door wider. “This isn’t a conversation to be had out here.”

I step through first, and despite Angela’s words, I have my hand firmly wrapped around Muramasa. If this is a trap, I’ll be the first to trip it. Oddly, I feel bothered with the weapon’s missing voice. I hadn’t realized how much I’d gotten used to it, until it was gone.

No traps spring as I step through and my eyes adjust to the dim interior and step into a cluttered living area. Books adorn every wall, stacked upon each other. Maps litter a wooden table in one corner, and a soft yellow light hangs down from the ceiling. Compared to outside, it’s dark in here. Despite the clutter, I notice that the place is immaculately clean. Books are stacked precisely, the maps laid out evenly, and I can’t see anything resembling dirt or debris in here. What I had assumed as there being no light, is in truth a light that is much dimmer than outside.

“Cozy place,” Areth says in her usually blunt way. “A little small and cramped, but at least you’re not a slob like some men and actually know how to clean.” She gives me a pointed look, but I have no idea what she’s talking about.

“Thank you, gracious water fairy,” the man says, bowing to the golden woman on my shoulder. “Please be seated,” he says next, and there are chairs in the room I somehow missed seeing before. The man’s eyes are shadowed, his long stringy gray hair hanging down onto his shoulders, and his shoulders are stooped. Despite his obvious age, he moves with ease and alacrity. “We have another guest coming, but for now, there are a few things I think we need to discuss.”

“Then you know why we’re here,” I state, not really asking.

“Of course,” he says, a bit of mirth in his firm voice. “You’re here to kill me and take my sword.” Shock strikes me to the core at his words, and I open my mouth to protest, but his chuckle cuts me short. “Forgive an old man his ill humor, Lyden. You can’t see things as I do, and there is a long path between here and there. You’re here to break the curse, but I’m afraid it can’t be done.”

Depression replaces shock at his words. I’d been told that the curse couldn’t be lifted, but I’d still hoped, and hearing it from the person we thought could help. . . .

“Listen, son,” Shemhazau’s voice softens and I can hear genuine concern in it, “I said it couldn’t be broken, not that it couldn’t be defeated. How do you suppose I survived so long with Masamune?”

“If I have to choose between living in this place, or slowly going mad out there, I’ll choose to die first,” I tell him seriously, not liking the old man calling me ‘son’.

“Then it’s a good thing you won’t have to choose either one,” he tells me cheerily. “All you need to do is right an old wrong, steal a powerful talisman, and kill your old man.”

I’m beginning to wonder how crazy this guy is. “I don’t want to kill anyone!” I protest. “My father is long dead, anyway, and I don’t know how good a thief I make.”

“Ahh, the foibles of youth.” I’m really getting sick of his happy grin. “What if I told you that you could take out the man that got your parents, and get the talisman at the same time?”

Suspicion at his words worms its way in. Everything sounds too convenient. “What do you mean?” I ask, wondering what his angle is.

“I don’t understand,” Angela says at the same time. “What does any of that have to do with beating the curse?”

“I believe our other guest has arrived,” the man says, still grinning that infuriating smile. The old man gets to his feet, and moves to the door, opening it only a crack, before looking out. I can’t help but wonder at the juxtaposition of his knowledge of external events, and his paranoia. When he’s done verifying the person at the door, he opens it wider, and waves the person in.

Curly red hair is the first thing I notice, but I recognize the person immediately.

“Brooke?” I ask, confusion making my world reel. Then, with dawning horror, I begin to understand. “No, I will NOT kill her!” Shemhazau had said that I would have a chance to take out my parent’s killer, but I’ve already forgiven the mermaid assassin her part in it.

“Lyden?” her soft voice fills the air, as she peers around the dim room. “I don’t understand what’s happening. A flying dolphin came up to us shortly after you left, and told me that I needed to come with it.”

“Relax, son,” the man says as he glides back to his chair. “She is not the one I meant, though she carries her own guilt for her actions. She will need to accompany you. I’m afraid your other two companions here will have to remain behind.”

“That’s not possible,” Angela nearly shouts as she jumps to her feet. Shemhazau looks at her, cringing away slightly, and I see one of his gray eyebrows arch. “I mean, they are tied together. Arethusa will die if they’re separated.”

“I hate that name,” the fairy mutters in my ear.

“Oh?” the enigmatic man says, looking to the little fairy still on my shoulder. “Is that so little one, or is there something you’re hiding.”

“I-I don’t know what you mean,” the pixie stammers. I feel her little hands grip my hair while she pulls herself closer to me, protectively. It takes me a second to realize he’s responding to Angela’s statement, and not the fact that she dislikes her full name.

“Leave her alone,” I state, my voice firm and full of command. No one treats one of my friends like that.

“I think you’d better tell him, little fairy, before I do.” This time the man’s voice is full of menace, and I find myself standing up, not willing to put up with his flip-flopping attitude any longer.

“No, Lyden, don’t,” Areth says directly into my ear, her voice full of resignation as she lifts away from my shoulder. “He’s right.”

“Areth?” I ask, now thoroughly confused.

“We’re not tied together, even though you took my maidenhead,” she tells me as she flutters before my wondering gaze. “I don’t understand why, but that first night, after Marchosias’s trap, I decided to test the limits of our connection, while you were otherwise occupied.”

“You shouldn’t have done that,” I protest. “What would’ve happened if you’d gone too far and couldn’t make it back?”

She gives me a sweet but sad smile before continuing. “I wanted to know how close I would have to stay to you after I felt you absorb my soul.” Something falls from her face, and it takes me a moment to realize she’s crying. “At first I was surprised that I wasn’t feeling any drain on my system as I travelled away from where you slept. When I got to the other side of that monstrous city you live in, I had to admit that something was odd. For some reason, I wasn’t tied to you, as I should’ve been. I was free to continue to live my own life any way I chose.”

“But you came back,” I say softly, trying to grasp what she’s saying. Why is it that after I broke her cherry, we weren’t linked to one another? I’d felt the change at the time, so what happened?

“I almost didn’t,” she answers my statement. “Do you have any idea the kind of freedom that offered me? All our lives, fairies worry about every creature they come across, afraid that one of them may take our maidenhead and forever control us. I no longer needed to worry about that. I am freer than any fairy ever before.”

“Why did you return, then?” Brooke asks, and I can hear a note of anger in her voice. The small golden woman has lied to us all, making life on Earth more difficult, as we tried to accommodate our supposed link.

“I’m still not entirely sure.” Areth’s head comes up, and I can see pleading in her tiny bright eyes. “I saw how you treated those around you, Lyden, and I still felt close to you. You risked yourself back in that demon’s lair to save me, and then were willing to sacrifice your life to the Cyclopes, to save me again. I’d never met anyone who was so willing to put others before themselves, and you intrigued me. I know you didn’t particularly like me, so I pretended that. . . . I just didn’t want you to send me away!” She drops to the floor, and I can tell she’s sobbing.

Angela moves to the fairy’s side, and scoops her up, glaring at me, as though this whole situation was my doing.

“I don’t understand why we aren’t linked?” I state to no one in particular as I try to sort out my own emotions. Sure she had tricked me, but she had also been of help at times. At first I might have sent her away, back when she started to annoy us after saving Brooke, but despite my own words afterwards, I don’t think we’d have made it this far without her. Hell, she’d saved my life on more than one occasion.

“I believe I can answer that,” Shemhazau says, and I jump, having completely forgotten about the scrawny man. We all look at him, even Areth, waiting for him to answer. After a few seconds of silence, I clear my throat, and he looks almost startled as he looks back at me. “What? Oh, right. So, anyway, like I said, I believe I can answer that question.”

“You said that already,” I tell him, feeling my annoyance rising again.

“I know what I said, and what I haven’t said, son,” his indignant reply comes back at me. I’m really getting annoyed with him calling me son. “And one thing I haven’t said is that while you did break her maidenhead, and you did take her entire soul into yourself, you didn’t leave her without a soul of her own.”

“That doesn’t make sense,” Brooke says before I can. “If he took her whole soul, then how did he. . . .” she stops and her mouth forms an ‘O’ as her wide eyes look at me.

“What?” I demand, still confused.

“Lemme lay it straight for ya, homie,” the man’s attempt at street voice is almost laughable, if the situation weren’t more serious. “The pixie and you did it before you actually took her maidenhead, right?” I nod, remembering the masturbation session while she was still attached to the orb of light, as well as barely making it into her anus when Marchosias forced us to perform in front of him. “At those times, your souls mixed. You got a bit of hers, and she yours. Now hold on, I’m getting there,” he says, holding up his hands to forestall me interrupting him. “When you finally took her maidenhead, every bit of soul that was in her at the time transferred to you. In truth, that’s all that was required to complete the demon’s trap, but you’re a good lad, and didn’t stop there. Had you done so, then you would indeed be linked to each other. However, like I said, you’re a good lad and when you finished, you transferred some of your soul back to her. Since your soul had some of hers, she was able to take it, and use it for her own. Ya dig?”

The way he says it seems to make perfect sense, and I wonder that we didn’t figure it all out before, until I remember that I still don’t fully understand all of my abilities.

“I still don’t fully understand why she came back,” I say aloud, not really expecting an answer, but wanting to hear my own voice.

“Because I’ve fallen in love with you, dolt!” A golden blur flashes to my face, and she stops, hovering close enough that I can’t focus on her features. I can make out that her hands are on her hips. Never a good sign when a woman does that to you.

“Which brings up another point,” Shemhazau says happily. “The real reason generators were killed off so many centuries ago and why interbreeding has been outlawed.”

The crazy old man has my complete attention again, though I take a moment to reach out and carefully place Areth back on my shoulder. She huffs in my ear, and I can feel her fist strike my ear, but her heart isn’t in the blow.

“Not all generators get their ability to garner power the way you do, Lyden. You owe that fun ability to your father. He was once a king for the succubae. However, all generators gather loyal followers. Loyalty can come in many shapes and sizes, but it’s not unheard of for a generator to amass an army of very loyal friends.”

“And the Pillars couldn’t handle any challenge to their power,” Brooke says, understanding.

“Some of them, yes,” Shemhazau nods. “Gaia, and the Pillars of Light and Dark didn’t push for it, but the other three did. In the end, Light and Dark couldn’t bring themselves to care enough to oppose it, and Gaia wasn’t strong enough on her own.” He looks around the room, and for the first time I catch a glimpse of his eyes. Light colored, but still too dim to make out clearly. “And the only way to produce generators is through interbreeding.”

“So it’s safe to have mixed children?” Angela asks, and there is no mistaking the hope in her voice.

“Of course not,” he replies with that large smile of his. “It’s still true that they could go mad, and with the unpredictability of their powers, that has the potential to cause massive trouble.” The succubus’s face drops, as her hopes are dashed. “But it’s not as big a fear as the Pillars pretend it is.”

New hope light’s Angela’s eyes, and I see it reflected in Brooke’s green orbs. Somehow I think this latest revelation has just created a whole new level of complications for me. I think back about Sheila, and wonder what her decision will be.

“Now back to the real reason you’re here, son; the curse.” The way this insane man keeps changing subjects has my head spinning, and I find myself sitting unexpectedly, Areth squeaking in surprise in my ear. “The curse can’t be broken, but it can be augmented and lived with.”

“How?” Angela asks.

“I’m so glad you asked,” he states, almost like a T.V. personality. “It’ll take three things: Muramasa, which you have, Masamune, which I have,” with a flourish of his wrist, a blade that looks identical to mine—except the blade is pitch black, where mine is a shiny chrome—appears in his hand, “and a talisman to work between the two.”

“He can’t just hold Masamune to have the curse changed?” Areth asks.

“He could, but it would drive him insane, as both blades would constantly war over his mind. He would be the battlefield between.” The old man shakes his head sadly. “The good news is that, in the words of Meatloaf, “Two out of three ain’t bad,” and I just happen to know who has the needed talisman.”

“The man who killed my parents,” I say tonelessly.

Brooke jumps at my words, and it only then occurs to me that we are going to have to go after her old commander. I really must be off balance mentally for it to have taken me this long to figure that out.

“He can’t!” the redhead nearly screams. “If Lyden draws that blade again, I don’t think the real Lyden will come back. Commander Douglas is a renowned swordsman. I don’t know of anyone that can stand up to him, and survive. Or anyone who ever has.”

“One man did, though barely,” Shemhazau says wistfully. “That is why you must accompany him, assassin.” For some reason, his voice fills with anger at the title, as if he’s accusing Brooke with it.

“I’m no better with this hand,” she says, holding up her right hand with its missing and shortened fingers.

Shemhazau smiles as he approaches her, but I can see it doesn’t reach his eyes. Taking her maimed hand in his, he softly kisses each finger, and I hear Brooke gasp with each touch of his lips. When he steps away, the assassin is staring at her hand. Each finger is whole, and looking healthy once more. The flesh of the new digits is a light pink color.

“So long as you stay loyal to him, and protect him, your hand will remain whole,” the man says, and then wearily sits back down. “Now go, you two. One of my dolphins will guide you. We’ll talk more when you return.” With a wave of his hand I feel something tug at my navel, and have to blink, as the world around me grows too bright.

“What just happened?” Brooke’s voice sounds to my right.

“I think we were dismissed,” I reply unhappily.

It takes me a few moments to clear my eyes enough to see in the bright outdoors, and another second to get used to the washed out colors. A small dolphin is swimming through the air in front of me and I have to admit that even after all I’ve seen in the last couple months, this strikes me as very wrong.

“I suppose he’s our guide.” Brooke’s words act as a catalyst, and the dolphin, no longer than two feet from nose to tail, begins to swim away. The creature looks completely natural as it moves through the air, that for a moment I get the crazy notion that the air is as thick as water, and have to stop myself from trying to swim after it.

I follow without hesitation, and I can hear Brooke coming up behind me.

“Lyden, wait. How do we know we can trust him?” I ascertain she’s referring to Shemhazau and not the dolphin.

“Do we have a choice?” I ask in all seriousness.

“Well, no, but you don’t understand what he’s put us up to. Commander Douglas is one of the best swordsmen I’ve ever heard of. He may claim that someone has walked away from him, but I’ve never heard of them.” Her newly reformed hand on my shoulder slows me, but I refuse to stop. “We don’t stand a chance against him.”

“Do I have a choice?” I ask her again, without looking her way.

She’s silent for a while, before she says, “The amount of power he must have to fix my hand and dismiss us like that. . . . Lyden, I don’t know who that man is, but he is nearly as powerful as the Pillars.”

“You want to know why he doesn’t come for this talisman himself,” I state, knowing where her mind is going. “I think it’s because he’s cursed by Masamune. He can’t come for it himself.”

“And how will you break his curse, so that you can use his sword to augment yours?” Her words are delivered softly, but I can hear the fear that drives them.

“I don’t think that will be a problem,” I tell her, ideas falling into place in my mind. “He said you had to protect me to keep your fingers, right? Why would he do that, if he meant me harm?” For some odd reason the paranoia this place engenders doesn’t seem to be affecting me when it comes to the crazy old man. Odd, since I’d been so suspicious of him earlier. Maybe I’m just finally willing to accept my fate.

She doesn’t respond to my statement, and we walk in silence for a bit, until she says, “Maybe we can talk to Commander Douglas. We’d worked together once, and—“

“He killed my parents,” I say, cutting her off.

“I had a hand in that too, remember? Do you plan on killing me?” her snide voice almost makes me turn on her, but after all that time trying to keep my emotions in check, and with Muramasa still remaining silent, I’m able to keep myself under control.

“You saved my life, and have protected me since I was a child,” I tell her. Steel has more emotion in it than my voice does right now. “I love you, and will do everything in my power to keep you safe. What redeeming qualities does Douglas have?”

To my surprise, she actually laughs lightly. “Sorry,” she dissembles when I look at her questioningly. “It’s just . . . I’ve never heard anyone call him just Douglas. He’s always been Commander Douglas. It actually makes him seem less formidable.”

“How old are you?” I ask, suddenly more curious than cautious. Her eyes grow wide as she looks at me, caught off guard by the sudden change in subject. Thank you, Shemhazau for that trick. “Even when I was a kid, you looked as beautiful and young as you do now. The way you talked about your old commanding officer, is as though you’ve known him for a very long time.”

She looks forward again, and this time the silence that follows is almost palpable.

Giving the question up as lost, I try to enjoy the scenery and the unique experience of following a swimming dolphin through the air.

The porpoise stops suddenly, and Shemhazau’s voice pours from its open toothy mouth. “He keeps the talisman around his neck at all times, knowing it is something we both need to break our curse. He has long desired my death, and enjoys taunting me with how close he is, knowing that I can’t come for him. What you’re looking for looks like a pearl, but has striations of ivory and ebony throughout it.” Without any further warning, the small creature swims straight upwards, and is soon lost in the too bright sky.

“Where to now?” I ask, looking around.

I spot the answer at the same time Brooke does, and we begin walking towards a light blue hut on the edge of a large pond.

“Let me do the talking,” Brooke says as we come up to the door.

“What do you plan to talk to me about?” a voice behind us startles us, and we flip around to see an older man, sword held out and at the ready. We hadn’t seen anyone outside, and he’s caught us completely off guard.

When he sees Brooke’s face, his jaw goes slack and the point of his very sharp weapon dips slightly.

“I thought you were dead,” he mutters before his sharp eyes flicker to me along with the tip of his weapon. “Who are you?”

“He is mine,” Brooke says evenly, stepping in front of me. “What do you mean, you thought I was dead?”

He looks sharply back to the mermaid, and shakes his head. “When you vanished after being promoted to full assassin, I assumed that that old bastard, Shemhazau, had killed you.”

“Why—?” she asks, but is cut off when the strong man suddenly hugs her to him.

“You don’t know what it means to know our last mission together wasn’t the reason you. . . . But never mind that now, where have you been?” His curious gaze flickers from Brooke’s green eyes to me and back again, before he releases her, and steps back suspiciously. “This is him, isn’t it? This is the child you swore you drowned.” His blade is up again, the point pressed against her throat. Anger suffuses his voice as he glares at Brooke. “All these years I assumed Shemhazau killed you when he escaped me. I mourned for your death, but the truth is, you were a traitor. Give me one good reason I shouldn’t give you a second mouth right now.”

“Because you’re a dead man if you do,” I announce. While the man had been talking, I’d slowly unbuckled Muramasa from my hip, and now I hold the cursed blade up, an inch of shiny metal peeking out from the sheath. I can almost hear the blades mantic cries to be fed, but it’s extremely easy to block out its weakened voice.

Douglas recognizes the blade, and I can see genuine fear cross his face as he backs away. I get a good look at his weapon and see that it’s the twin of Brooke’s wavy blue sword.

“You’re working for him then?” Douglas spits off to the side as he glares at us. “All this time. . . . And you end up doing his dirty work.” With his left hand, he reaches into his shirt and pulls something out. A round object about as big as my thumb, is attached to a leather thong with a piece of wire. White and black lines swirl through the object, making it look as if the thing is made of liquid, as the lines aren’t stationary. “I suppose this is what you’re after? You’ll have to peel it from my cold dead hands, if you can. Come Traitor; let’s see how good you are with your betrayer’s blade.”

I can see that the man’s words hurt Brooke, and I feel true anger rise up in me that he would treat someone I care deeply for in such a manner. Keeping Muramasa sheathed, I step in, trying to knock his enchanted blade aside.

A loud crack resounds and my blade goes flying, sheath and all. Screaming in sudden pain, I drop to my knees cradling my broken wrist. How did he move so fast?

“Hmph,” Douglas grunts derisively. “I thought I would have more to fear from Masamune’s twin. Come Traitor, and test your blade against mine. Let’s see how much you remember of my training.”

My world splits into two portions, one focused on my excruciating pain, and the other on Brooke.

My mermaid lover draws her sword, and I notice that there is no sound when she does so. The two watery blue blades face each other, mere inches separating their incredibly sharp blades. Neither one moves for a moment, eyes locked on their opponent. Having held Muramasa out, I know how hard it can be to hold a blade entirely steady, but theirs could be attached to statues, they’re so still.

Brooke takes a step to her right, and Douglas smoothly follows suite. The redhead now stands between Douglas and me, and I realize she’s protecting me.

I stand up, wanting to help out however I can. “No, stay back,” Brooke says without breaking eye contact. “This isn’t a fight you can help with.” Her voice is flat and emotionless as she commands me to stay put.

I think to change into a dragon, but the pain in my wrist stops me from concentrating enough to do so.

“I’m glad to see you can keep your emotions in check, Traitor. At least all of my training wasn’t lost on you.” I know he is only trying to egg her on with his taunts, but they’re striking home in me.

“You killed my parents, and tried to kill an innocent baby,” I say. “At least she actually has a heart that beats in her chest.”

“A heart?” the other man snarls, losing his temper slightly. “After I killed your mother, brat, and your father escaped from me, do you know what he did? He murdered my wife and two daughters while they slept. Don’t talk to me about a heart.”

Brooke uses the man’s outburst as a chance to attack, and the two blades strike against each other, sending sparks flying. For tense moments, both combatants face off against each other, the blue metal of their blades creating a cacophony in the bright air, ending when Douglas shoves Brooke away from him, and once again they stop and stare at each other.

So, call me dense, but it’s only now that I realize the true import of everything that’d been said. Shemhazau is my father. He had escaped from Commander Douglas, and the assassin must have claimed he’d killed both my parents when he reported back. My old man is going to have a lot of explaining to do when I return.

“You killed his wife,” I continue talking, hoping to set the man off again and give Brooke another opening. “You tried to kill his child, me. Do you want me to feel guilty that you failed? Ha!” I laugh loudly, using the pain in my right wrist to fuel my voice. The man doesn’t even blink as I speak, and I realize I’m going to have to go with low blows to set him off again. “I hope your family screamed out your name when my father killed them. Does it haunt you at night, knowing that the last person to see them alive was the man you most despise?”

“Shut your fucking mouth,” he snarls again, and then has to concentrate on staying alive as Brooke presses the attack, bringing her blade in hard and fast. It’s barely deflected in time, but I still see a line of red open up on the man’s side.

“Maybe your wife offered to suck his cock to save your babies,” I continue, hating myself for speaking these words. I take no joy in what I’m saying, but I’ll do whatever it takes to help Brooke out. “Do you often wonder if he killed them quickly, or took his time? Or did he just kill them as you killed my mother, while she was screaming to save her child?”

Douglas’s temper finally seems to be completely under his control again, as he only glares at Brooke. I open my mouth to continue, wracking my brain to come up with something even more vulgar to say, but Brooke interrupts me.

“Lyden, shut up.” Her words delivered without emotion make me obey more than anything else.

“At least you still have some honor,” Douglas states, and I can tell he’s actually breathing heavier. Brooke by comparison is the essence of calm.

“I’m sorry you thought I was dead all these years,” she says to her opponent, her sword clanging as she knocks aside a thrust from him. “That was never my intent. I was a failure as an assassin, unable to complete my mission. I ran away, unable to bear the congratulations of my achievement, when I knew it was false.” As she talks in her flat tone, Brooke slowly begins to draw her blade back, switching hands and lifting it over her head, still pointing at her opponent. “I am truly sorry for your family. Melissa was always kind to me, and I always thought your daughters were cute.”

“Don’t speak her name, Traitor!” Douglas dashes forward and I watch in horror as my dearest friend and protector grabs his naked blade with her newly healed right hand and moves it only slightly, letting it sink into her gut, then holding it there with an iron grip. The tip of his blue steel pokes out her back, but Brooke doesn’t scream out in pain or even acknowledge the mortal wound. Quicker than my horrified eyes can follow, her left arm drops down and a second later the older man’s head is rolling across the ground.

My utter shock lasts only a second before I rush to her in time to catch my wounded lover with my wounded arm before she hits the ground. I grasp the other blade, but her grip on my arm is firm, stopping me. “Don’t pull it out. You’ll only make the wound worse.” She gasps, showing the pain she’s in for the first time. She looks at her right hand, and laughs for a moment, until the pain stops her. I follow her gaze, and see that her hand is unharmed. “He said that it would remain whole as long as . . . I was protecting you.” Her eyes meet mine, and she gives me a slight smile. “A hundred and forty-two.” I look at her confused, no idea what she’s talking about. “That’s how . . . old I am.” Talking is obviously getting harder for her, and tears sting my eyes as I realize I’m about to lose her.

“Hold on,” I tell her. “I’m going to save you.” Frantically I start racking my brain, trying to come up with some way to reverse the damage to her stomach. There isn’t enough time to sleep and enter her mind. “Shemhazau!” I scream, hoping to get his attention. Maybe he can heal her. “Father, I need you! I can’t lose her. Please, I’ll do anything, just don’t let her die!”

Silence answers my call.

Brooke’s hand brushes my cheek, and I look back down at her. Her form is blurry through my tears, but I can make out a wistful smile on her lips.

“I love you, Lyden.” She shudders and coughs before she can continue. “You need . . . to get the talisman . . . to Shemhazau. It’s . . . too late for me.”

She goes limp in my arms, and it feels like my entire life shatters with her passing. Memories of growing up, of always having her there as a constant companion, flood my mind, overwhelming my senses. I remember becoming interested in women, and crushing hard on the older redhead. I remember her showing up to my high school graduation, and all my other friends being jealous that she was there for me. When I’d scraped my knee trying to show off by doing a trick on my pedal bike, she’d been there to comfort me. I also remember finding her in that prison cell in Atlantis, wounded and hurt. The look on her face when I’d broken free of my restraints in TanaVesta’s chamber. So many memories, and yet they seem to flit through my mind with barely a moment’s hesitation.

Heart breaking, I bend over the form that had once been Brooke, the redheaded mermaid assassin, that had also been my savior as a child, and plant a soft kiss against her immobile lips.

“I love you, too, Brooke. I’m sorry I couldn’t save you.” A new wave of grief washes over me, and I press my lips more firmly against hers, trying to impart everything I feel for her in this one action.

* * *

A hand on my shoulder tries to wake me, but I refuse to give it any attention. Why won’t they leave me alone in my grief? Isn’t it enough for them that I returned with the talisman, and augmented my curse? All I want to do is sleep, to forget my pain. Who cares what happens with the two worlds anymore? Brooke, MY Brooke has been taken away from me. Nothing else even matters.

“Lyden?”

Sometimes I even imagine I can still hear her voice. So soft and sweet, yet with a strength beneath it that belies her past.

“Lyden, wake up. We need to be going.”

I roll away from the voice. Whatever bad guy it is this time, can have me.

“Dammit Lyden, I don’t know what you did, but I’m not strong enough to carry you out of here.” The imaginary voice of Brooke is becoming more insistent. “I didn’t kill my mentor just to let you stay out here and waste away.”

Annoyed, I turn and look at the speaker.

And have to do a double take.

Brooke?!?” I demand, looking into those familiar green eyes.

“I don’t know how you did it, but I woke up with a killer stomach ache a few moments ago.” She points to the bloodstained tear in her clothes, and I can just make out pink puckered flesh beneath.

“But, how?” I ask, still confused.

“I don’t know,” she repeats. “I was hoping you could tell me.” She looks past me, and I see her eyes grow large. Spinning around, I quickly get to my feet, and then have to take a moment to catch my balance as the world tries to go black. I got up too quick. “Lyden, I can’t. . . .” Brooke’s fear filled tone allows me to focus, and my vision clears.

Two gangly yellowish creatures are slowly. . . . I don’t know what to call their motion. Two long arms, each with two elbows, and two stubby legs attach to short but muscular bodies. The things’ movements are a cross between shuffling, crawling, and sliding over the ground. The creepiest part is that they have no head, just a mouth full of yellow sharp teeth between their shoulder blades.

My entire body aches as I bend over and pick up Douglas’s blade in my left hand. My other hand is still useless. Muramasa is already back on my hip. I see Brooke pick up the leather thong with the talisman attached, and place the blood soaked necklace about her neck.

“There’s already been enough death today,” I tell the two things, hoping they at least have ears to hear me. They continue coming closer. “What are they?”

“I don’t know,” Brooke replies. Her left hand is over the scar of her wounded stomach, and her assassin’s blade sits lightly in her right hand.

Leaning on each other, we begin to back away, placing our backs against the building. A sound to my left draws my attention, and I see two more of the creatures coming at us from that direction.

“Lyden,” Brooke’s voice is full of worry.

“Lemme guess,” I say sardonically. “There is two more coming from the other side.”

“I wish,” she mutters, mimicking my tone. “There are four.”

I open my mouth to swear, and stop myself. Muramasa isn’t influencing me right now, and there’s no reason to act otherwise.

Muramasa. . . . With him in my hands, I could protect us from all eight of the monsters.

And probably lose my identity in the process.

Why can’t I catch a break? I mentally demand of no one in particular. Sometimes I miss those times when Sheila would yell at me to get back to my reports.

“Come on! Let’s get those fucking fuckers!” I hear a female shout a moment before the blast of a shotgun knocks one of the beasts in front of us over. A moment later, a rifle and pistol report in, and the second thing goes down.

“What took you so long, Jennifer?” I ask, trying to stifle a giggle. I know if I let it out right now, they’ll all think I’m mad. Heck, for that matter, I almost wonder if I am half crazed. How are they here?

“Eh, sorry doc,” she says imitating Bugs Bunny, “but we, eh, took a wrong turn at Albuquerque.”

“Between talking and flying dolphins, and ants that breathe fire, I’m not sure I’ll ever get another peaceful night’s rest,” Captain Jewkes states. “Or how I’m going to write this up in a report.”

“I’ve got a great psyche at the local VA,” Thomas says, shouldering his rifle.

“If you’re done chit-chatting,” Lisa yells out, “there are still a few more of those things around.” The athletic blonde swings her short sword, lopping off one of the over-long arms of the monstrosity she’s facing. Becky finishes it off a second later with a quick thrust of her blade through its chest. The two work perfectly together, their movements synced.

The fallen monster’s companion rears up on its stubby back legs, towering over the two women by a good three feet, but topples forward a second later, and I see the hilt of Ondine’s dagger sticking out of its back.

I turn to face the four that Brooke had informed me of, but can only barely make out their back ends as they high tail it out of here.

* * *

“So when the dolphin told us you needed help, we didn’t hesitate,” Thomas says as we sit around a small table in Douglas’s cabin. The old assassin had had the key to it on him, and while the space is cramped, we all feel a bit better with solid walls around us.

Sheila sets a bowl of some kind of stew in front of me, and then drops to her knees besides me and proceeds to spoon feed me. She’d fussed over my wrist, bandaging it, and worrying about how I’m going to defend myself with a busted appendage. AnnaBelle and her had remained back during the fighting, only coming forward when the all clear was given.

“So your succubus and the fairy remained behind, while you went on this dangerous mission?” Jewkes asks me, and I nod in response as I chew some kind of meat from the stew. “And you say that the person we came here to meet is actually your father, whom you thought has been dead all these years? Damn, your life is screwed up.” He looks around the room, his gaze lingering for a few moments on Sheila before shaking his head and muttering something under his breath.

“Where did you learn to cook like this?” I ask Sheila.

“A tavern maid learns all sorts of things, Master,” she smiles enigmatically as she brushes her fingers along the wrappings on my wrist.

“They do, indeed,” I smile down at her, remembering Marchosias’s fantasy world, and thinking that he ended up helping me out more than he’d intended.

“You should get some rest and help heal your friend, Master,” my slave continues, pulling me to my feet, and leading me over to the bed where Brooke is already asleep. The bed is small, barely big enough for the two of us, but soft and soon I’m out cold.

“What took you so long?” Brooke asks me, and I know I’m in our shared mind-space.

“Some of us didn’t get healed up as much after the battle as others did,” I say, holding up my right arm. Apparently my wounds aren’t reflected here, as my wrist is fully functional.

She laughs lightly as she lifts the hem of her shirt, and looks at her unblemished stomach.

“Awe,” I moan disappointedly when she puts the shirt back down.

Her eyes sparkle as she grins at me before looking around at the blankness that makes up the atmosphere of the mindscape. “Do you ever find it odd that we find ourselves together in here, more than in the real world?”

That sobers me up. “Well, if you weren’t so fragile, maybe I wouldn’t have to heal you so often,” I try to say jokingly. I’m not sure it comes out as I’d intended.

“If you’d quit needing saving, maybe I could refrain from getting injured,” she shoots back, and I can see the sparkle return to her beautiful eyes.

I laugh, and she joins me as we come together and hug. I can’t help but wonder at the warmth that infuses my body as her arms wrap around my torso and her curly redhead lays on my shoulder.

“I love you,” I murmur. “And if you ever try something as harebrained as sacrificing yourself for me again, I’ll never say those words again.”

She tries to pull indignantly away from me, but I firmly place my hand on her head, and squeeze her body to mine until she quits struggling.

“I can’t lose you,” I hear her say after a few seconds, and she hugs me tighter. “I gave up every dream I ever had to save you. Everything I ever knew, I abandoned to make sure you lived. I’m not willing to give that up, and I will sacrifice anything to keep you alive.”

I’m stunned at the import of her words. I’d never looked at it from that angle before, but it seems so obvious now. She had wanted to be an assassin, but failed her final test: me.

“Why don’t we make sure we both live,” I tell her softly. “You’ve always been there for me. You’ve been more a part of my life than anyone else has, and when I thought I’d lost you, I couldn’t handle it. If you want me to stay alive, then you’d better do the same.”

“That’s pretty selfish of you,” she replies. “How did you bring me back, anyway?”

“I wish I knew,” I chuckle. “One moment I’m hugging you to me, the next, you were waking me up. Whatever it was knocked me out.”

“Is that why you really brought us here?” she asks, and I can hear a note of laughter in her tone. “To recoup the energy you lost in bringing me back?”

“Wasn’t it you that just informed me of how selfish I am?” I ask back, releasing her head, and letting her look up at me.

“That’s okay,” she replies with a wide smile, “I’m pretty selfish sometimes, too.” She seals her statement with a kiss. The kiss isn’t passionate or demanding, as Sheila’s are, but unique to Brooke alone. No tongue is involved, just our lips pressed together in a way that portrays how much she cares for me, and I for her.

Her hands tell a different story, however, as they work at the button to my pants, wanting to get them down and off. My hands roam her back, and I can’t stop my fingers from curling against the cloth of her top when her slender fingers grip my already hard phallus. I moan into our kiss as she begins rubbing the sensitive head.

I know that sex isn’t necessary to complete the healing while in this unique place, but I won’t pass up the opportunity for it either.

With a quick mental thought, I cause our clothing to vanish altogether. It might be more fun to undress each other, but I really don’t want to break our kiss, or the wonderful sensations she’s sending through my thick rod.

She gasps as I drop my right hand to her rear, giving the firm flesh a good squeeze. Taking the opportunity of her open mouth, I dart my tongue in, and quickly find it twining with hers.

Bringing my left hand around, I quickly locate the small nipple on her tiny right breast, and use my thumb to stimulate it until it’s nice and hard.

She’s light as I use my grip on her rump to lift her up, and then gently lay her down on the dark floor. Finally willing to break our kiss, I let my lips meander across her cheek, until I reach her left earlobe. I stop here for a bit, nibbling gently while my left hand glides across the smooth expanse of her stomach until I find the already wet hole at the juncture between her legs. Her fingernails scratch my back as I move my hand from side-to-side, eliciting moan after moan from the gorgeous woman beneath me.

Breaking away from her ear, I slowly alternate between kissing and nibbling my way down her neck and chest, until I reach her left breast. Her nipple is already taut and standing proud, even though I haven’t given this one any attention and I devour it with gusto, while simultaneously slipping my middle two fingers into her. Crooking the two invading digits, I rub hard across the top wall of her uterus, until she explodes in a loud orgasm.

Releasing her nipple from between my teeth, I immediately move the rest of the way down her body, locking my lips with her nether-lips, while she’s still shuddering, and tasting her sweet nectar as it flows from her honey-pot.

Her orgasm seems to extend as I concentrate on nibbling her tiny clitoris, until she painfully grips my hair and pulls my head away.

“Enough! I can’t take that anymore. Lyden, I want you in me now. I want to be complete with you again.” Her voice is thick with desire, and I can’t resist her.

Moving back up her body, I begin rubbing the tip against her opening, but her legs wrap around me with astounding speed and strength, and she pulls me into her with one quick motion, screaming out her enjoyment as I moan with the feeling of her soft wet flesh sliding around my conforming cock.

Her legs keep me locked in pace, but she uses her pelvis to lift up and down beneath me. Gazing down at her, she has her hands gripping my arms below the shoulder, her eyes closed tight, and a delightful smile on her pretty lips as she brings herself off against me.

I wait for her quivering to stop, before I roll us over, and pull her chest down to my salivating mouth. Her small breast easily fits between my lips as I suck hard on it, and I truly take pleasure in the way her tight coochy tightens around my prick. My hands drop to her rear again, and I use my grip to pick up the pace of our lovemaking, feeling my culmination coming close.

Brooke’s hands grip the side of my head, and she pulls me away from her sensitive tit to press her mouth back against mine. This time her tongue invades my mouth a moment before I feel her fluids gush around my pole. She feels too wonderful for me to hold back any more, and I let loose with my first volley, gasping with pure unadulterated bliss as our combined climaxes comingle.

Time loses all meaning as we float through a haze of pleasure and delight in each other, and when I finally return to myself, I find I’m back in bed, snuggled tightly against the redhead.

The shutters have been drawn tight against the bright light outside, and I can hear a few snores around the cramped little hut.

Feeling refreshed and renewed, I carefully get out of bed, and walk towards the outline of the door. I can see Thomas and Ondine curled up together on the floor in the brilliant light as I slip out, and smile for the two. I really hope they’re happy together.

Jewkes meets me outside, and I can see Thomas’s rifle across his lap.

“You’re not trying to slip off and do something heroic, are you?” he asks me, and I notice a cigarette dangling from his lips beneath his hooked nose.

I laugh softly, wondering at how much I’ve been in a good mood since coming to Light’s domain. Even with the paranoid feelings this area engenders, it’s still better than dealing with Muramasa.

“No,” I reply. “Jennifer was just snoring too loudly to rest anymore.” It’s a small fib, and suddenly I feel overwhelmingly guilty about it, but I don’t call it back. Is a guilty conscience the reason for all the paranoia I’ve been feeling in this place? I’ll have to ask AnnaBelle if she feels paranoid here. That might explain why Muramasa has remained so silent.

“Heh,” Jewkes laughs in response to my lie, “with chest airbags that large, it’s a wonder she can breathe at all.” I smile in response, thinking about how the woman would feel about someone commenting on her assets that way. She’d probably enjoy it, knowing her. “How’s the wrist?” he asks next. “I understand you’re able to do some healing while you sleep.”

I laugh lightly, wondering what the man would think if he knew what exactly I did in my sleep. Experimentally, I move the fingers on my right hand, and feel no pain. I grimace as if it’d hurt terribly, however, the paranoia of the place making me cautious. “I wish it were a hundred percent,” I reply, thinking this isn’t a true lie. With Sheila’s wrappings I don’t have full movements of that hand. The guilt I feel for the slight deception however, is still strong. “Have you gotten any rest?” I ask the lawman.

“This is the third watch,” he states. “Thomas and Ondine took the first watch, and Jennifer took the last one.” He stands up suddenly, rifle to his shoulder and ready to fire. I follow his gaze, and see one of my father’s dolphins swimming through the air towards us. It feels odd to think that I now have a father again, after believing him dead for decades. Jewkes dips the point of the weapon, but doesn’t put it all the way down, staying cautious.

The small creature opens its toothy mouth as it comes close and begins speaking in Shemhazau’s voice. “If you’re done lazing around, son, I think it’s high time you returned with the talisman. Your companions will remain behind, all of them. I personally guarantee their safety and yours. Let’s break this curse together, shall we?”

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =
Big thanks to Garbonzo607 for the awesome edits, ideas, and advice. Without his help, this story would have been a LOT more lackluster and confusing.

Comments are always read and appreciated.

Can’t wait until chapter 24? Go read it on my blog now! You can find the address to my blog at: http://forum.xnxx.com/showthread.php?p=5847059# in my signature!
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