Hyperion – The Assassin is LIVE and FREE

Hi Peeps! Got huge news again today. My romantic suspense short story, Hyperion – The Assassin, is live and free starting today! Grab your copy and tell your friends, too. if you share this with other people (either on your blog, on social media or via e-mail) I’ll be sure to reward you richly with another three free books: The Executioner Part One, The Executioner Part Two, and The Revenge of Andrey Jones – coming out mid November – but also with many other free books by other authors every month.

Here’s what Hyperion – The Assassin is about:

Hyperion is an assassin with a fist of iron and a heart of ice. Not entirely human, he’s the only one who can fight a special kind of enemy. After being sent to the Dark Forest, he sets up camp and begins observing his target from the shadows. There’s little Hyperion doesn’t see coming, and even less he can’t deal with. That is, until his target’s young wife, Ligia, steps into the picture. A woman surrounded by darkness seeks the assassin, and threatens to melt the heart that has been frozen for so long.

Get it for FREE here! and stay tuned for more goodies coming up this week.

The Marquis – Epilogue – THE END

It’s true what they say about London – it’s rainy, gloomy, but full of charm. After only a few days here I feel like a maiden who’s eloped with the prince of her dreams to his magic land. My heart slowly cleanses itself of all the hurt and trauma from Northville, and I actually feel this love can put my soul back together.

Kieran and I spent the first couple of weeks alone in a beautiful townhouse. In the morning we’d watch the fabled London rain together, me wearing his shirt and holding a steaming cup of tea by the window, surrounded by his strong marble arms. On each one of these mornings my heart swelled with heavenly pleasure and joy. We visited old cathedrals, places and museums, we went out to concerts and restaurants on fairy-tale dates, and I can swear all I feel is bliss. Until I think of my mother.

It’s a good thing she stayed back in Northville. A good thing for me. It’s not like she didn’t want to come and be part of our lives, but the idea made me cringe with every one of her pleas. Kieran offered to pay for her to enjoy a most comfortable life wherever she would like to lead it, but since staying with us wasn’t an option because I refused, she decided to stay in Northville, where she could contemplate her past and her wounds.

Northville. The place can never go back to normal life. The town people saw too much, experienced too much, know too much. They agreed to help keep the serpents’ secret, and now the town has become a fortress, a heavily guarded keep for the serpents’ world-changing mysteries.

Lauren remained in the dungeons deep under the manor in the end, while Zed, Joyous and Jeanie stayed behind to oversee Northville’s fortification, and only joined us again today – on my first exhibition.

We’re at one of the most renowned art galleries in London, now filled with my paintings. They’re enjoying great success, but I have a feeling that has more to do with the power and money of the Marquis de Vandenesse than with my work. This event seems more of an introduction to the Londoner high society than anything else. People are more curious about me – the Marquis’ future wife – than about the paintings, though a few persons do show themselves impressed by a few pieces which they also decide to buy. Whether for the sake of the art or for the Marquis’ favour, I’ll never know for sure. But what I enjoy most about tonight is watching the young and handsome Kieran Slate as the Marquis de Vandenesse surrounded by elegant people seeking his attention, and realizing that all his hypnotic black eyes ever seek is me.

“It must be a true blessing, being worshipped like that,” a calm voice says, and soon the woman it belongs to steps in front of me.

“Vivien!” I make a move to hug her, but the golden lace dress I’m wearing screams at the brusque move. It threatens to tear, though it cost a small fortune – a paradox of fashion I always failed to understand, and a purchase I decide not to replicate. Vivien giggles a bit when I fail to wrap my arms around her, giving her an apologetic smile.

“You’re the most envied woman in the room, Saphira Lothar, soon-to-be Saphira de Vandenesse.” She looks me up and down, her intelligent brown eyes as kind as her words and voice. “Beautiful, talented, special and loved beyond measure by your man. None of these people miss any of these things, trust me.”

“I have a hard time fighting my vanity right now, I must admit.” I squeeze her hand, hoping the gesture expresses as much as a hug would. I keep my voice down, though I want to call out how happy I am to have her here. “So wonderful that you came.”

“I won’t stay long.”

“I don’t understand. Where are you going? I mean, I doubt you wish to return to Northville . . .”

“Indeed, I have no desire to do that.” She drops her gaze, but I keep mine steady on her. I can’t help but marvel. Despite all the torture she’s been through, she’s lost nothing of her inherent refinement and style.

Vivien Grant is a highly educated young woman, she speaks four languages fluently, she’s been to the finest schools, and majored in Philosophy. She’s a true intellectual. Her cleverness is obvious in her eyes, which intimidated men all her life – the very reason she was always single, I think. But after everything she’s been through she’s lost a bit too much weight, and the black pencil dress doesn’t do much to hide the willowy lines of her body – something that makes her look like a model, and attracts the eyes of fat-bellied rich men. She’s not too tall, not too short, and she moves with the gracefulness of a ballerina. The natural porcelain smoothness of her face adds a touch of innocence to the nobility of her features, and so does her un-dyed brown hair that’s now restrained in a sleek elegant chignon.

“But where will you go?” I whisper. “And . . . why?”

She lifts her eyes and directs her gaze to someone in the room. I follow it and see Zed in the Marquis’ entourage. Though the pain that last distorted his edgy, stony features is now well hidden behind the “Stone-mask” and the ice-blue of his eyes, there’s a bitterness and sullenness about him that scream it out. I remember Joyous’ explanation about what killed Yvette, and I grab Vivien’s wrist.

“No! It can’t be! You really . . . The Black Monks’ curse . . . Vivien, are you?”

She yanks her hand away and looks around as if to remind me we are being watched, and to get a grip on my temper. “I don’t understand what happened, Saphira. I just know I can’t be around him anymore. I just . . . shouldn’t feel how I feel about him. Yvette died because of it. And somehow he holds me responsible for that, as if it’s my fault we are now bound to each other, I . . .” She looks up, blinking and seeking to dry her tears and gag her sobs.

I take her hand in both of mine. “Please, Vivien. You just arrived, I just got you back. You can’t leave me again, please.”

“You don’t need me, Saph. You’ll enjoy a wonderful life with Kieran, and you’ll share your happiness with Jeanie and Joyous. I don’t fit in this picture, I’m broken and nothing can fix me.”

“With more reason. You need us.”

“No, Saph, I don’t need you, no matter how much I love you. And neither did you need me for healing, let’s be honest. What healed you was Kieran’s love that is special and perfect. Joyous loves Jeanie the same way, with a love that is natural only for superhumans.” Her voice breaks with sadness. “With the same love Zed felt for Yvette, and will never feel for me.”

Distress must be obvious in my face, because Kieran joins us and wraps a protective arm around me. “Is everything all right here?”

Vivien looks at us with her eyes full of tears but also kindness. “I wish you to be so very happy together, Saphira and Kieran, with nothing to ever shadow your love again. From the bottom of my heart, I truly wish that for the two of you.”

Unable to control her tears anymore she turns and hurries away, losing herself in the crowd. I want to follow, but Kieran stops me.

“Don’t.” He looks at Zed. I follow his gaze, and I see it – the terrible truth. Connections fire in my head as I grasp the truth.

“Oh. My. God.”

“The stake is high, Saphira,” Kieran whispers gravely. “And whether it will ever burn or not depends only on Vivien Grant.”

 

***

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for having followed the story of Saphira and Kieran the Marquis! It’s been an exhilirating ride for me, and I hope you enjoyed it as well. Stay tuned for many more goodies to come on this site, from personality tests and psych secrets to new thrilling stories of suspense and love. Also, feel free to ask me any questions you might have about the tests, articles and stories, I’ll be happy to answer them. A big, warm hug,

Yours,

Ana

 

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The Executioner – Ep. XV – In Danger

“How can you be sure Dad is safe with the Intelligence Service?” Worry broke through my voice, no matter how hard I tried to keep it chained.

“Because there’s nothing safer than their protection in this country,” Mom said.

“The few words I exchanged with him back at the hospital, he didn’t seem anxious about his life. He wanted to stay here, with us.”

“Two of his colleagues and their families have been killed, Alice. Those men worked for the same organization as your father from Barcelona and Bristol, also in matters related to genetic research. The R.I.S. are certain BioDhrome were the moral author of these murders, and that back in the mountains they meant to finish you in the same horrendous way to teach your father the same kind of lesson. Therefore Tiberius is a risk factor in this house, for us and for himself. Without him we’re safer, but still. Officer Sorescu, the man you saw in here . . .” even more careful now, “he’s around with his colleagues, just in case. Melanie and George will be staying with us too.”

“Does this mean we’re confined to these walls?”

“No. The R.I.S. and the doctors, they all agree that the trauma will be slow to leave you, so a normal life is essential. Especially public places are benefic. Crowds are safe.”

She smiled as if this were supposed to thrill me like alcohol would a teen. And it did, to a certain extent. Crowds, places like the campus and even clubs were safe indeed in our town, people’s built-in curiosity would let no event unobserved. It worked better than CCTV, so there was strong reason to believe that BioDhrome wouldn’t risk taking action in open field. They’d try to get us alone, at night in lonely places or even in our homes. So surveillance and protection made sense.

But the feeling that Dad had been extracted against his will nagged. He’d been desperate like never before at the hospital, his tone had left no room for doubt. He’d been convinced that he could protect us, especially by being present.

“And if we want to talk to him? Is there some number we can call? Some place we can go, for example, I don’t know, a phone cabin downtown like in those detective movies or something?”

“We can contact Agent Varlam.”

“I see.” I proved unable to control an acid grin. So this is how Hector was forcing cooperation. By leaving us no way around him. On a second thought, what if extraction was no more than a cover? A gross lie? What if he’d thrown Dad in a nasty cell and punched and kicked information on Damian Novac out of him? I jumped to my feet, bumping into the table edge. My ears whistled in tune with the kettle on the stove.

“Well, I’d like a word with him right now,” I spat.

Mom stood up too, hand on my cheek to calm me down, blue eyes identical to mine wide and worried. Standing half a head taller though, she made me feel like a kid again.

“Alice, honey, the whole idea behind this was to keep out of touch. Why bother organizing an extraction, if family stops by at the hideout to say hello anytime they please?”

“And you accept this so easily?” I snapped and brushed her hand off. “Are you really not worried about him, not one bit? His absence doesn’t bother you in the least?”

Now it was Mom’s turn to frown and apply a hard edge to her voice. “It’s not much difference to the last years, is it?”

“But this is different, Mom! BioDhrome is serious shit, real trouble that not even the R.I.S. might be able to protect him from.”

“I am worried about your father, Alice, believe me, but yes, I admit, I’m more worried about you. And if his presence puts you in danger, then I don’t need or want to see him again until the afterlife.”

Her words sent a stab through my brain, but I kept protest and anger behind tightened lips. Mom’s honesty was sharp, like glass colliding with glass in her voice, leaving no trace of vulnerability. Moreover, Dad had been cheating on her for a long time, and she knew it. I happened to know even with whom. Indeed, why should she give a shit? I tried for a peace-making tone.

“But I wouldn’t be seeing him, Mom. I’ll just talk to Agent Varlam, make sure Dad’s all right. I need to convince myself.”

“I know you’re hard to assure of anything, sweetheart. You have a counterargument ready for anything, you’re able to question even the law of gravity, and I think you’re taking it too far sometimes. That’s why I’m telling you now: your father is safe and sound, take that for granted.”

Mom wasn’t the dictator Dad could often be, but when she stood for something there was no way past her will. Behind the mask of the kind, soft-spoken Madame Jenna everyone appreciated, she had ways of getting what she wanted, brains to bow to and the patience of a reptile. On days like this, I ate my heart out for not having inherited at least half of everything she was.

Still, I found the guts to try and make up a strategy around her in my head, but before it caught shape I heard the door from the antechamber to my room. Then light steps. Ruxandra’s steps. The knock on the doorframe to signal her presence was accompanied by a weak smile.

Her pretty face had lost much of its glow, her olive complexion now pale in its own way, her hair a washed-out black, rumpling down to her waist. Her jaw was locked despite the smile. The experience we’d been through had taken away what was left of her carefree self, I would say.

Mom smiled back and hurried to pour her a cup of coffee, eager to cover the subject of our conversation. Ruxandra relished Mom’s warm welcome like an orphan would a Christmas night with presents, and joined me at the table, huddled in my old pink bathrobe that came too short on her arms and legs.

They were all “Rux, dear,” and “Jenna” to each other, as always. They had a special relationship. Mom had made a life purpose of plunging deep into the troubles of the gypsy minority, she had dedicated them her time even though there was no trophy to be won. Rich wives of the Western World she came from did charity, Mom had told me, but she didn’t think much of it. “Raising funds for clerks. Trust me, half of the donated money ends up on their pay-checks,” she’d say.

But Mom was determined to be of use on a very personal, palpable level, and made a great “career” of social work. Many of the gypsy kids in our neighborhood, Ruxandra and her older sister Cora included, had listened to her winter stories and learned to read and write from her. Both Romanian and English. It had been Mom who’d helped Ruxandra’s mother leave her husband and find a job at the textile factory many years ago. She’d fought and achieved so much in those difficult times. A rush of admiration swept over me. My heroine.

Ruxandra took a long sip of coffee, fingers curled around the mug, then leaned her head back, savoring not only the aroma but also her surroundings. There was love in her gaze as it crossed over every detail of the room – the cluttered wooden cupboards nailed to the walls over the counter, the door to the back garden with its frosted glass pane, the pots, kettles and spoons dangling from a wooden stripe with hooks above the sink like bells waiting to be played.

“I’ve missed this place,” she said, her hand gently stroking the nylon table cover.

Mom gave her a warm smile. “It’s missed you, too.”

Despite the promising start, the conversation got stuck as soon as Mom uttered a “Did you sleep well?” Ruxandra lowered her head and pressed her lips, as if not wanting to remember. But, if she’d had nightmares, I hadn’t noticed. She’d been still and quiet. Only George’s low moaning and sighing had reached me once in a while through the veil of light sleep.

Mom tried to guide Ruxandra back on the conversational track, but all she got were attempted smiles from the trembling corner of Rux’s mouth. She wasn’t quite herself. But then again, neither was I.

Mom’s insistences on tea, cookies, coffee, chocolate, marmalade and another dozen sweets per minute were a clear sign I was a disturbing sight too. I wasn’t even sure to perceive and answer all her questions. I had this feeling they’d passed by my ears more than once, like “deja heards or something.

George woke up late in the afternoon. His sudden screams as if someone sliced him alive made us all jump, and Mom almost threw down the door to the antechamber to attend him. His pained groans sent chills down my back. Ruxandra slapped her palms over her face, her shoulders shaking in sobs.

Carefully, I took her in my arms. I threw a glance at the big, lazy clock on top of the bookcase – four in the afternoon. George had at least gotten a good chunk of sleep. Unlike Ruxandra and me, who hadn’t even found the energy of losing the pink bathrobes we still wore like overgrown babies, curled on the couch, TV on.

Without Mom to promptly switch channels as soon as the news came on, always packed with tragedies and subliminal, “This is the end of the world,” Ruxandra and I were now fully exposed to them. A report about a massacre at a remote cabin in the mountains of Bulgaria made both our eyes bulge.

The twin of our story, only that no one had been found, dead or alive. The perfectly groomed reporter’s words were like other “deja heards,” her voice matter-of-fact but disturbed in its depths. Censured images that played on the half of the screen next to her face accompanied her story.

“Blood on pieces of clothing and torn curtains. Broken windows and . . .” And this is where my ears began buzzing, muffling the sound of the TV. My blood pressure must’ve shot up.

So this one made it on the news.

“They’ll cover up in a few days max,” Ruxandra said, close enough to my ear to pierce through the buzz.

“How is that supposed to work? How could a footage like this be a mistake? They freaking filmed the mess. People are not stupid, Rux.”

“No, they aren’t. But there have been so many tragedies with so many explanations lately, that illegal experimentation won’t cross their minds. They’ll accept any animal attack, serial killer, drugs and orgies that ended up badly, you name it.”

Then the reporter said, “The police arrested Dr. Lazar Dobrev, a psychiatrist. He used to treat one of the missing persons. Dr. Dobrev set the man on the loose, even though he was known to have murderous impulses, which he shouldn’t have had trouble acting on at a height of two meters, and a hundred and seventy kilograms of muscle.”

 

***

 

Enjoyed this? Find the previous episodes here: Prologue, Episode I, Episode II, Episode III, Episode IV, Episode V, Episode VI, Episode VII, Episode VIII, Episode IX, Episode X, Episode XI, Episode XII, Episode XIII, Episode XIV. More coming up next week! Until then, keep enjoying the goodies on this site, from personality tests to online stories – check out the dark mysteries of The Marquis here.

I love reading from you, so don’t be shy and share your thoughts and feelings in a comment.

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Freed – Ep. 44 of “The Marquis”

It’s heart-breaking, watching Zed bent over the bed where Yvette lies, her face like wax. I would’ve never imagined the Head of Security, the man I once nicknamed “Stone Face” expressing such intense hurt. His edgy features are distorted, his eyes scrunched shut as he bites his knuckles as if that helps him subdue the pain to a bearable level, hands clasping tightly to each other. So much death, so much pain.

“It was Lauren Morris who killed her,” Joyous whispers in my ear. We’re standing in the doorstep of a small service hut adjacent to the manor. “She killed Yvette on her way to the tower, where she planned to do the same with you. They fought, but in the end Lauren was stronger.”

“But that’s not possible,” I babble among sobs, keeping as quiet as I can in order not to disturb Zed. “I saw the two of them fight each other before, Lauren would’ve never stood a chance against Yvette.”

“Normally not, but Lauren had a secret weapon – the truth about what happened when the Black Monks’ curse hit Zed, and his fingers drilled into Vivien.”

My head snaps to him. “Something happened then?”

Joyous the Healer keeps looking at Zed as he talks, as if assessing the state of his health from a distance. “Vivien and Zed connected on a very deep level. We still don’t understand exactly in what way, but we know the first thing Zed said when he opened his eyes – after you made the painting of him – was Vivien’s name. The event had a powerful effect on Vivien as well, an effect that apparently went as deep as her DNA, which we’ll test soon. We don’t think what binds them is romantic in nature, we rather think it’s biological, but it’s still something we have yet to fully understand.”

“Then how . . . why . . . how could Lauren use that as a weapon against Yvette?”

“It was all in the way she put things. It seems she made Yvette think Zed and Vivien were now bound like star-crossed lovers who would only resist being together in order not to hurt her, and that weakened Yvette’s desire to live.”

“Joyous, are you sure about this? How do you even know what was said between Lauren and Yvette?”

His face takes on an infinitely sad expression, like that of a parent melting with pain as they see their child cry. “When Zed found Yvette she was still alive. She died in his arms, after she gave him her blessing to be with Vivien.”

Tears course down my face, bundling on the tip of my chin. This is a tragedy. I try to keep my sniffling inconspicuous, but I can’t bring myself to leave the hut, not wanting to miss the chance of helping Zed if he needs me in any way.

Other serpent-men come in and out, pretending to have things to do in the hut in order to quietly check on Zed, then they leave just as quietly and grim-faced.

I know the kind of pain that’s consuming him, and I know no one should approach him now. He needs to be with Yvette. Still, I can’t take my eyes and focus off them until Jeanie approaches and whispers between Joyous and me.

“The town people got a priest for the dead. He’d start with Yvette now, so that her soul can be on its way. She’s the only human, the rest of the dead are Black Monks and serpents, and for some reason he doesn’t consider matters as urgent for them.”

I’m more than relieved that my sweet curly-headed, milky-skinned Jeanie is safe and sound, but all I feel capable of giving her is a slight nod. She looks devastated as well, and it has to do with Jeremy. He’s not dead, though, and that moves him down on my list of priorities.

Lauren is top of it right now. I need to talk to her. I already forgave her for many things, such as having sought and used every opportunity to hurt me all my life, for having destroyed my relationship with Jeremy right before our wedding, even for having tried to kill me, but I can’t forgive her for this cruelty – when asked whether she regretted having killed Yvette, only a few hours later in the dungeons, she says with a vicious grin that she doesn’t in the least.

She says that Yvette was a plump middle-aged woman who embarrassed herself by pursuing a relationship with a man who seemed much younger than her, not to mention outrageously more handsome. She also says that she’d merely cleared Zed’s future of what would’ve proven ballast that he respected too much to shake off. That he should actually be grateful to her. Her only regret is having tormented me the way she did, now realizing I’m the only innocent person in this entire story. I can’t listen to any more of this. I turn on my heel and stomp out of the dungeons along with en escort of serpent-men.

The serpents manage to keep Zed away from Lauren’s cell, since he would surely end her, and she stands under both my and Kieran’s protection for having made the decisive move in the fight between Kieran and Basarab. Hadn’t it been for her, my lover would now be dead too. We have yet to see what to do about her.

Joyous, Jeanie and a few serpent-men escort me to the study to see Kieran. Here he’s having his last important talk before he brings his business in Northville to a final close, they say. And right before we knock on the doors they open widely to let a team of men in white medical clothes carry away a screaming and raging Jeremy Simmons. They make for such a commotion, that we instinctively clear the way to the sides to let them pass, restricting our reactions to staring after them, seeking sense of the picture.

Jeremy’s bulk is useless against the expert arms of the very same men who’d broken my bones with jets of water at the asylum. All I can do is watch as they take him away. His maddened eyes latch on to me like I’m everything to him, his fingers splaying towards me like a man’s reaching for his only hope.

“Saphira, listen to me!” His voice reminds me of the lamenting lunatics back at the asylum. “This wasn’t my fault, Saphira! This was not my fault! We are both victims, Saphira!”

He keeps calling out my name as the men in white drag him away down the corridor, his screams growing faint. A presence behind me makes me turn, and my eyes meet the beautiful face of Kieran Slate.

Our arms wrap around each other, our embrace tight like that of two people frantic to keep together, terrified they might be separated again. We touch each other to make sure the other isn’t hurt, and I must say the hard feel of his body under his shirt elates me – it gives me the feeling that he’s not only whole and healthy, but also indestructible. I couldn’t take knowing him in mortal danger again, it would surely kill me.

I cup his face and look up into his pitch black eyes, revelling in the awareness that we’re together again, and promising him and myself that I’d never leave his side again.

“I love you, Kieran, I love you so much!” I stand on my tiptoes, kissing his cheeks and his forehead that he seems happy to offer, bending down to me.

“And I adore you, Saphira.”

We kiss deeply and desperately, our souls merging with each other, forgetting time, place and the group of serpent-men hovering around us, watching. Joyous clears his throat and touches Kieran’s shoulder, bringing us both back to reality.

“There are a few more matters you might want to deal with right away. Like Saphira’s mother, for example, she’s desperate to see her daughter.”

“Take her to a room in the west wing. Saphira will come to see her after she’s rested.” He looks at me again, a delicate smile on his face. “It might take until tomorrow.”

For a moment there I ask myself if all the horror I’ve been through is the price for the out-of-this-world love that I’ve been blessed to experience. It’s so unique, intense like the strongest drug, and so much more powerful than anything I’ve ever felt, even for Jeremy. Jeremy . . .

“Isn’t that measure too drastic?” I ask Kieran a while later, after immediate matters have been attended to, and the door to our chamber closes behind us. “Locking Jeremy in the lunatic asylum, I mean. In the end, he was under Basarab’s possession while he did everything he did, even as he first cheated on me.”

“Precisely because of that,” Kieran says, removing his shirt and revealing the marble perfection of his elegant muscles. “Basarab’s possession left him seriously damaged, plus that –“ he approaches and wraps his arms around my exhausted body. “He did serve the Elite, Saphira, remember? Those old pigs that run half the country paid Jeremy Simmons to keep them warm in Northville and in his side of London, and he obliged without scruples.”

The Elite . . .

“What will happen to them?” I whisper.

“They will pay dearly for what they’ve done, but that’s no longer our concern. I want to dedicate my life to making you happy, Saphira. No more revenge, no more bitterness, no more war.”

Kieran bends his head and kisses me under the light of full moon that hazes between the vaporous curtains. I close my eyes and relish in the silky, warm feel of his lips, excited like the first time my crush kissed me, and yet feeling so at home. The most wonderful sensation, the perfect interlacing between the highs of infatuation and the depths of true love. I nestle my head at his chest, listening to his heartbeat. Maybe we still have a chance of putting all this behind us, a chance at complete happiness, even after so much evil. Maybe this love does have the power to dispel the shadow of everything that happened.

“Take me away from all this death, Kieran.”

***

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Stay tuned for the last Epilogue next Friday, to be a part of Saphira and Kieran’s final adventures! Until then, feel free to roam this site for all the goodies it has to offer.

 

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The Executioner – Ep. XIV – Discoveries

Where was Dad?

I threw the blanket aside, squirmed out of bed – squashing Rux in the process, provoking a sleepy grunt – and rushed to the master bedroom.

The curtains hung open, making way for the pale winter light through the overlarge window. The bed was made – of course, Mom must’ve been up for hours, if she’d slept at all, considering the circumstances. Having left the parental home a few years ago to live with Ruxandra in the suburbs, most of my parents’ habits had moved to the back of my brain, only to resurface when exposed to them again. As they did now. I remembered the smell of scrambled eggs that used to draw me to the kitchen when I was still a teenager. It hadn’t spoilt my olfactory senses in some years and it didn’t now either, but, as I said, old memories resurfaced.

I tiptoed to the kitchen to find Mom sitting at the table, her thin fingers slowly stroking a coffee mug smeared with souvenir photos of San Francisco – one of the few items that still bound her to her own home. Her stare was lost over the black liquid that didn’t give out steam, which meant she must’ve been staring blankly at it for some time now. Her hair, blond and crisscrossed by gray strands, fell rumpled to her slim shoulders. A fluffy white nightgown clad her thin body.

The sight was disconcerting, considering her usual innate urge of always looking flawless and making an impression of aristocracy on all eyes that fell on her, including the cleaning lady’s. Now the absence of an elegant and shiny chignon and the uncovered wrinkles on her meager face in the presence of a stranger were another definite sign something was wrong.

His sitting with her, the corner cupboard hanging over his head like the Sword of Damocles, was even more disturbing. A heavy winter coat hung negligently on the rest of his chair, his chubby hands cupping a coffee mug of his own like pillows of flesh emerging from under thick sweater sleeves. His mien was grave as he set small brown eyes on me.

Round and unfriendly, that’s the impression his face made. Was he her lover? No way, my inner self spat. She would’ve gone for someone less . . . stiff. Plus, he didn’t seem to be feeling awkward, nor did he try to justify his presence.

Just a few moments of puzzling silence, then he stood up, gathered his coat and turned to the door that led directly to the back garden – something told me he’d come in through the same, but I was clueless as to the reason why he refused to use the front door. With a hand on the handle and the coat on the other arm, he turned once more to Mom.

“You know where to find me.”

She nodded, and he left.

I opened my mouth to speak, but nothing came out. Still, my sixth sense activated again and sent me with slow steps to the table, then seated me in the man’s place.

Mom didn’t raise her head. On the contrary, she seemed to sink it even closer to the mug, a hunch forming on her slim back that was otherwise as straight as a wood plank. Hadn’t it been for the thick bathrobe, I would’ve seen the skin stretch over her ribs. The truth of the man’s visit must’ve been a burden not much different from an affair. Could it be?

“So?” I managed after a while.

Her fingers still stroked the mug with slow, even moves. “We’ll be under police surveillance. I don’t know for how long.”

Police surveillance?

“Why’s that?”

“You and your friends. The . . .” she chewed on her lower lip, probably to keep back what looked like a nervous breakdown. Her cheek twitched. “Those people from the mountains. BioDhrome, they told me.”

Panic shot to the tips of my toes.“BioDhrome’s our priority now, Tiberius. They won’t stop here.”

“Where’s Dad?”

Only now Mom looked me in the eyes, eyebrows up like a crying pet’s. She looked for the way to put it, there was no doubt.

“No, God, please no!”

Mom’s expression grew from wrecked to worried, more alert now, the way it had been at the hospital. She touched my wrist, voice soft and soothing, though it cost her some effort. “No, baby, no. He’s all right, safe and sound.”

“Where is he then?”

This was the news she’d been nervous about, I could tell by the pause and fixed gaze on my eyes. “He’s been extracted, they told me.”

Extracted? What’s that supposed to mean?”

Another nervous chew on her lip. “This BioDhrome thing.” Then reconsidering, “Alice, this must stay between us. Tell no one, not Ruxandra, not anyone.”

“Just tell me, Mom!”

“Give me your word first. For your own safety, not my comfort.”

“I’m your daughter, you really believe I’d betray your secrets?” A stab in the chest accompanied the words. As I don’t betray Dad’s. “All right, may I die in chains, if a word on this leaves my mouth,” I went for one of the gypsy oath formulations I’d learned in Ruxandra’s crowded home as a child.

Mom shuddered. “Not like that, please. Your word suffices. Keep this all to yourself, for your own good.”

“No need to elaborate on that. Elaborate on extracted.”

She took a deep breath, gathering her nerves. “I’ll have to start with the beginning so you understand.”

“Please do.”

“For many years, Tiberius has been working with an international organization whose name he never told me. He’s been analyzing blood samples they delivered him. The results were always classified, your father never spoke of them. They often surprised and baffled him, which filled him with enthusiasm in the beginning. But after we had you, he withdrew in his shell like a turtle. Soon his work started to take too heavy a toll. We had midnight fights more and more often.” Her voice trailed off, lost in painful memory.

“Tell me about it,” I whispered. All those late nights when Dad tiptoed to the master bedroom, the quiet quarrels they thought I didn’t hear played like a movie in my head. All those empty weekends, Mom sunken in her books and I in mine, Dad only a picture on a shelf, even though he was still of this world.

“I put him under pressure to quit what he was doing. I imagine that’s why his heart grew cold to me, and he began seeking comfort elsewhere. Oh, dear baby, I haven’t asked – some coffee? Tea?”

With the premiere of her confession on my shoulders I nodded, and Mom put a kettle on the stove. I let her decide on whether coffee or tea and moved a few inches in to let her sit by me and slide a loving arm around my back, as if to support me through what she’d say next.

“Your father is a BioDhrome target, they tell me, because he works with their direct enemy, an organization which calls itself ‘the good guy,’ but I don’t know. They’re so powerful that they could order the R.I.S. to take your father in while we were still at the hospital in Brasov, and that kind of power is dubious. To be completely honest, I’m no less afraid of them than I am of your attckers in the mountains.”

***

Enjoyed this? Find the previous episodes here: Prologue, Episode I, Episode II, Episode III, Episode IV, Episode V, Episode VI, Episode VII, Episode VIII, Episode IX, Episode X, Episode XI, Episode XII, Episode XIII. More coming up next week! Until then, keep enjoying the goodies on this site, from personality tests to online stories – check out the dark mysteries of The Marquis here.

I love reading from you, so don’t be shy and share your thoughts and feelings in a comment.

 

Blades and Roses – Ep. 43 of “The Marquis”

Ivan Basarab is dead. It becomes clear to me as the wounds in Kieran’s picture begin regenerating like slowly closing zippers. His reptilian powers of self-healing work freely, which means no one is attacking him anymore.

The canvas of Basarab’s picture, on the other hand, is drenched in red, dripping thickly on the floor and on Lauren’s shoes. It’s dead quiet outside, as if the wind itself were holding its breath, and all I can hear is the beating of my own pulse in my ears. As the breeze makes it through the window again I release the air from my lungs and fall to my knees.

“It’s finished,” I whisper, covering my face with palms full of colour.

“What just happened?” Lauren mumbles. I look up at her through the blurry veil of my tears, but I can see she’s completely bewildered. Intoxicated with hatred and seeing me hopelessly fighting to save Kieran, she did the only thing that was in her power– she stabbed and slit Basarab’s picture. The outcome is something neither of us expected, but synapses fast-wire in my brain, helping me put two and two together.

“Normally it’s the pictures that work as doubles for the people,” I explain quietly, “taking all the blows and the harm. But it seems the energy you put into your attack combined with the energy I put into making the painting reversed effects.”

“What the hell does that mean?” The turbid green of her eyes isn’t enough to camouflage her bewilderment this time.

“It basically means that by killing the picture, you killed the man.” I can hardly believe it myself as I voice it. “Incredible . . .” Incredible what human emotion, intention and energy can do. “It was . . . teamwork.”

A fat drop of red splashes on the tile under the tripod holding Basarab’s picture, and releases a chain reaction – the rusty smell of blood fills my nose, making me sick. The adrenaline has kept me unaware of the smell until now, but the relief that it’s all over brings back sensitivity to all my senses.

Billy Dean – Ivan Basarab – has open wounds that reach his bones, fat and muscle visible as if the canvas were made of flesh. My stomach can’t take the image, and I break down, crawling on all fours and struggling against the sickness.

Fortunately Lauren proves great presence of mind. She hurries to me, helps me up and out of the room from the Dark Tower, leading me down the gloomy spiral stairs and away from the horror behind. Even the spiders and insects seem to clear from the place as we descend.

I feel so sick that I rely on Lauren completely. From the night she almost beat me to death at the asylum I know how strong she is despite the very few pounds of flesh that cover her bones, but the fact that she’s so fast and stable on her feet despite the stilettos and the tight leather outfit is rather admirable.

As we emerge in the granite main corridor on the ground floor I manage to voice my thoughts, and Lauren admits she’s been training with Jeremy – probably while the Inspector was under Basarab’s possession – for months for this mission. In my head, I thank God her allegiances switched from Basarab to us, otherwise she would’ve easily killed me. In my stained canvas gown, barefoot and exhausted, I wouldn’t have posed much of a challenge.

The manor is huge, hollow, quiet and dark, only our steps filling it like ghosts. Lauren leans me on a pillar by the main entrance in order to try and open the double doors, but even with all Jeremy’s training she’s not strong enough to pull aside the enormous bronze lock that traverses them. I should’ve thought about it, the thing is designed to withstand a whole crowd pushing to open the doors.

We have to go down to the catacombs and use the opening that I discovered the night I first witnessed Kieran turn into a serpent. His men had replaced the glass I’d broken with a bulky bronze door, but I know the way to open it.

Lauren and I emerge out onto the rocky fields. The sea is far, but the salty breeze seems to carry drops from its raging crests. I close my eyes but open my arms and breathe in deeply, allowing the freshness of the night to fill my lungs.

“It’s over. It’s really over.” Relief courses from head to feet, turning me soft.

The horrors of these past months run before my mind’s eye and through my heart like they say things do a moment before you die. Before I first met Kieran at the Royale a felt eternity ago I was a pampered upper class girl secluded among her paintings, with little knowledge of the world out there. So much has changed since then. Right now I feel like I’ve just escaped execution after a long line of torments and tortures. My flesh hurts and my soul aches, but I’m alive.

A hand clasps my upper arm and hides me behind a back dressed in dark fighting clothes. I recognize the leather expansible outfit the serpents wore when they left for battle, as well as Joyous’ locks. He hisses at Lauren, who retreats in a hunched, rather awkward-looking fighting position on her mosquito legs, eyes wide and knives ready to protect herself.

“No, Joyous, wait,” I intervene, holding tightly to his arm and straining to make him listen. “She’s helped me back in the tower. She’s on our side now, and it was her who killed Basarab.”

Joyous doesn’t react immediately, but keeps circling Lauren while I keep dragging after him and holding tightly to his arm to prevent him from hurting her. He measures her from head to toes viciously, and finally addresses me, yet not taking his eyes off Lauren.

“Maybe it was only an act she put on as she realized her people were losing.”

“Her people were losing, but Kieran was dying. She saved him, Joyous!”

He still doesn’t look convinced. After glancing from Joyous to me a few times Lauren gives a crooked, daring smile and drops her knives, lifting her hands in the air in a gesture of surrender. The expression on her face still retains a kind of mocking pride, though – her way of keeping dignity as people emerge from the shadow, throw her down and tie her hands behind her back. Frankly I don’t blame her for it. She had to put up with enough humiliation.

“Treat her well until this is cleared,” Joyous orders. “Put her in a dungeon, but make sure she has minimal comfort.”

I want to intervene and plead that they don’t put her in a cell at all, but Joyous clasps my shoulders and makes me look at him. There’s something pained in the Healer’s eerie honey-coloured eyes surrounded by dark circles.

“I know you trust her, Saphira, but I can’t do the same, since . . .”

He pauses, and my heart jumps. “Since what?” I clasp his wrists in anguish. “Don’t hover, Joyous, I beg of you!”

He drops his voice as if to help keep us both calm. “There have been losses, Saphira.”

“Losses, what losses? Oh, God, Jeanie?!”

“No.”

My pulse seems to settle, but then the name hits me like an arrow in the breastbone.

 

***

To be continued on Friday.

Previous episode.

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Stay tuned for a new episode on Friday, we are drawing towards the end! ONLY ONE EPISODE TO GO plus Epilogue! Until then, feel free to roam this site for all the goodies it has to offer.

 

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The Executioner – Ep. XIII – Dirty Secrets

 

“My Dad is the mobster she danced for?”

“The mobster thing was just speculation, cheap gossip. But Novac . . . I’ll have to stop here, you’re in no condition to hear this . . .”

“My condition didn’t stop you until now. Go on.”

Hector gritted his teeth. “You know how I received this assignment? The Cezare Lupan file, archived with the R.I.S., disappeared six years ago. Disappeared, you understand? No one can make that happen unless they’re the K.G.B., F.B.I., fucking David Copperfield or a nasty monster with friends in high places, like BioDhrome. That’s how the Intelligence Service got me on the job.

“After six years of rubbing shoulders with him, I still don’t have evidence against Novac, I don’t. But I’m positive as hell he works for BioDhrome. Still, any chance of producing evidence by myself is gone with the wind. My cover is now history, blown when we got out of that frozen hell, blown when my R.I.S. superiors came forward too directly, overconfident I’d gotten all the proof and witnesses we needed to nail Novac after this.”

The room spun with me. This isn’t happening was back in the charts.

“So help me.” Hector lowered his voice even more, taking my hand in both of his. They pressed on my bandaged fingers, reminding me of how my nails had come off. The pain helped revive awareness that I was still in the real world.

“What did they talk about, your father and Novac?”

He put slightly too much emphasis on this last question. My thoughts suddenly fit together like puzzle pieces, leaving no room four doubt: he’d come to see me as an investigator, yet he’d done as good as all the talking, telling me horror stories about a Machiavellian agent and a father I refused to recognize. All this even though I lay on a hospital bed with IV lines snaking around my arms. “Everything hurts, no matter what.”

It dawned on me. The son of a bitch tried to manipulate me into betraying my own father, and Dad had known it. Maybe what he said was true, but he wielded the truth to get a fat bonus, trying to nail Dad along with Damian Novac, or Cezare Lupan, or whatever his name was. I turned my head to the narrow window, letting the gray daylight flood my eyes, as stinging as it was.

“I wouldn’t know, Agent Varlam. I wasn’t yet awake.”

“Yes, you were,” he insisted. “Your mother told me you were.”

“She was wrong.”

“As simple as that?”

“It’s the simple truth. Now if you don’t mind, I’m tired. Everything hurts.”

Hector tensed, I felt it in his grip on my hand and the intensifying pain in my fingers.

“I really hope you’re not covering anything, Miss Preda,” he stressed. “More shit will happen if I don’t lock up Damian Novac soon.”

“And who else would you have locked up, Agent Varlam?”

“Whoever aids him in his endeavors, directly or indirectly,” he spat.

Especially because of this covert threat I was relieved when he left the room, and anxious to see Dad at the same time. Soon I received another visit, but it wasn’t him. Mom rushed to my side and kissed my forehead, again and again, smothering me. I was so eager to talk to Dad that I didn’t wait for the right moment to ask about him, making Mom feel superfluous. She said he’d be back any minute now, but minutes and hours flowed slowly, the nerve-wrecking clock ticking them away.

No, Damian can’t be working with BioDhrome, I chewed on my thoughts. Of this one thing his conversation with Dad should have assured me. But then again, maybe he’d been playing Dad for whatever reason all the time they’d known each other. Maybe he did sleep with Svetlana Slavic, Dad’s slut, and maybe that wasn’t the only way he betrayed Dad. Maybe he was indeed a foe.

After two phone calls in hushed voice, with her hand covering the receiver and her mouth, Mom announced that Dad had urgent business back in Constanta and had been forced to return on a short notice – a surprise, considering his vehemence in staying by my side. But when Mom mentioned the business was related to “the case at hand”, assuring me that Dad was all right, I relaxed. Her voice usually had that effect on me. She also revealed we were at the General Hospital in Brasov.

A white-lit place it was, but depressing as hell. I got to explore its corridors while searching for Ruxandra as soon as I could walk, which didn’t happen until the following day. Considering the great blood values I was supposed to have according to Dad, the weakness and vertigo that made me throw up were unexplainable. Didn’t dare talk to Mom about it, though. It was hard to even look her in the face, knowing what I knew now – that Dad had been sleeping with a girl my age, a girl I knew. But I couldn’t walk without help, so I had to live with the crushing guilt as we strolled through the hospital. To top the whole thing, I had this ever-present sensation that I saw Damian everywhere, unyielding and unnerving that I almost choked on it.

“Is it just me, or you’re hoping to see this boy?” Mom said with a patient, experienced smile.

“I do.” The truth tumbled like a rock off my chest.

“He must be very fond of you, too. He spent hours by your bed.”

My heart jumped. “He did?”

Nod. “Didn’t take his eyes off your face. If I didn’t know better, I’d say he was hypnotized, standing there like a statue.”

I don’t think a bungee leap could’ve been more exhilarating than the feeling that coursed through me at those words.

“When your father and I arrived, he was already with you. God, sweetheart, never put me through this again . . .” She paused, swallowing the panic down her thin, dry-skinned throat as she skipped to a part that seemed to comfort her. “That boy was always there as doctors swarmed around you, and he stayed after they stabilized you, too. I didn’t have the heart to ask him for privacy.”

“Really?”

“He’s remarkably handsome, if I may say,” Mom continued with another conspirator smile. If only she knew how innocent she actually was, despite her long years of wisdom.

“That he is,” I whispered.

Only as we finally found Ruxandra’s room in the east wing – as dark and humid as any old building that rarely saw an investment – did the bitterness succumb, replaced by a flood of sadness at the sight of my friend lying on that piece of metal with a flimsy mattress, her chocolate eyes drooping and lips drawn downward from crying.

We exchanged no words. Just that locking of the eyes. I dropped by her side and squeezed her in my arms as hard as my tired muscles allowed. She was softer than usual too, her flesh felt like warm polenta. And tears flowed, wordless, both of us shaking with them, our fingers hooking like claws in each other’s hair, tugging as memories drained from us. We cried and leaned on each other like exhausted boxers until there was no drop of rage left, just sighs and lunatic laughs.

Although Ruxandra was perfectly healthy too, as her blood tests showed, the hospital wasn’t cleared to let her go. The police had ordered that none of the survivors leave the premises until specifically permitted to do so, which left no big difference between the hospital and prison. Hector prolonged this situation by as much as his badge allowed, so clearance came in about twenty-four hours. Every survivor was then ready to leave, no one with serious injuries or needing medical attention for an extended period of time, but mentally we were all wrecks.

Mom drove all the four-hour way to Constanta in silence. George had great need of it. He was sensitive to all sound, he’d cover his ears, his face would twist in a grotesque mask and he’d squeeze his lids shut at every word he heard. He’d killed a man with his own hands, the trauma was most severe for him, the doctor had explained. He remembered every detail of it vividly, which tormented him with violent headaches.

“Don’t leave him alone, for whatever reason,” the doctor had warned.

The street up to my parents’ house revealed itself on a last turn, cobbled and ghostly in our headlights. Barking from neighboring yards and the crisp sea air were the first to greet us, lonely and timeless, like the screech of our old iron gate and the warm darkness of our living room. I think that was my first real experience of synesthesia, I could almost feel the massive oak bookcase through my skin, the homely upholstered couch, Dad’s favorite armchair.

George didn’t wait for an invitation to throw himself face-down on the sofa in the small antechamber that opened into my room, which I used to call my “boudoir” back in high school. Ruxandra and I shared my bed.

Mom turned on the lamp outside, the thick skeleton of our old apple tree bathing in its mild light. We kept the curtains open so we could face it from the bed, my old guardian from childhood days. It felt safe, but I still couldn’t close my eyes until the early morning hours. Something was missing, something wasn’t right. Something wasn’t home. It only hit me when my eyes snapped open at midday, my brain refreshed:

***

Enjoyed this? Find the previous episodes here: Prologue, Episode I, Episode II, Episode III, Episode IV, Episode V, Episode VI, Episode VII, Episode VIII, Episode IX, Episode X, Episode XI, Episode XII. More coming up next week! Until then, keep enjoying the goodies on this site, from personality tests to online stories – check out the dark mysteries of The Marquis here.

I love reading from you, so don’t be shy and share your thoughts and feelings in a comment.

Judgment Day – Ep. 42 of “The Marquis”

Lauren approaches the picture of Billy Dean. I can only see her back – her blood-red hair in a bun, her tall skinny frame clad in black leather – as she strolls away from me. She keeps proud and straight perched on her stilettos, as if she’s demanding an explanation from Billy’s bespectacled, narrow face. Now that I think about it, in reality his front rodent-like teeth are even more prominent.

“But how can this be?” she whispers, inspecting Billy’s painting. “He’s not one of the men who committed the crime against Catherine Lancaster.”

“You know about that?” I can’t hide my surprise.

“I know about many things. Jeremy – Billy,” she corrects herself sourly, “– sometimes talked after sex. He always stopped before his tongue rolled too much, but I got the essential. I also know the Marquis suspected the real Ivan Basarab was one of Catherine’s tormentors. Jeremy – Billy – said his father had been among them and the true Ivan Basarab, and that he was merely continuing his father’s work, since the man himself was dead.”

I nod to myself. “That was only a diversion Billy created on purpose. He discovered that Northville had been a gloomy, anonymous enough resort where rich people acted out their inner demons for decades, and in time he discovered their dirtiest secrets. He used these discoveries in order to divert the Marquis from the truth. These people used Billy as a notary for bad business such as questionable adoptions and money laundry, especially since he seemed so easy to manipulate and to intimidate. He took advantage of that, one thing led to another, and within a few years he practically owned them. Billy has an incredibly high IQ, and he used his intelligence to get what he wanted. I’m sure he got himself introduced to the Marquis’ ‘makers,’ and got them to enhance him the way they’d enhanced other so-called superhumans like the Marquis. That’s how he must’ve obtained his demon-like ability of taking possession of other people’s bodies, as incredible as that sounds. I think he found a way to engineer the Black Monks too.”

Found a way,” Lauren repeats, still inspecting Billy’s painting closely, her hand tracing his nose and lips and chin. Her voice is full of hatred. “This man fucking possesses other people, Saphira. How can you simply put it like that – he found a way?”

“I couldn’t really afford dropping on my butt and gaping at the idea,” I reply, throwing my hands in the air. “I had other priorities, I couldn’t stop to investigate the science behind the way. Lauren, I almost died almost every day these past few months. I saw the Marquis turning from a stunning young man into a slimy, huge serpent, I found out there are immortals out there, I discovered that my father was a rapist and a murderer, that an army of leper monks invaded Northville, and I got almost beaten to death in a lunatic asylum just to name a few of my troubles. I’m not even sure my brains are still inside my head.”

A sound like canvas tearing interrupts my tirade, and my head snaps to the source of it. The Marquis’ painting is bleeding, his shirt soaking with viscous red.

“Kieran!” I haste toward the picture, grabbing the paintbrush and the crayons off the floor, and I start repairing feverishly.

Another tearing sound in another canvas makes my eyes search desperately for the source until they fall on Billy’s picture that is bleeding as well.

“They’re facing each other,” I shriek as Kieran takes more blows, his beautiful ivory face getting slash after slash as if Billy were attacking him with Wolverine-like claws. I’m aware of Lauren looking puzzled from my desperately moving hands as they work on Kieran to Billy’s painting that’s also getting wounds so ugly they seem inflicted with an axe. His flesh is split to the bone in many places. It looks like the Serpent and the Slayer are literally killing each other. Neither is winning or losing, they’re chopping each other to pieces.

I can barely keep up ‘repairing’ Kieran, and I don’t register when Lauren grabs the knives she’d meant to use on me just shortly before. I only spin round in dread when her outcry, vicious and full of hatred, rings in my ears. For an instant there I’m sure she’s attacking me, but I’m wrong.

With wide eyes I watch Lauren lunge to the picture of Billy Dean, the man who’d loved her his entire life, but who’d used her without scruples. She rams both knives exactly in the centre of his face, making blood surge as she pulls downward, cutting Ivan Basarab in half, and shredding him.

 

***

To be continued on Friday.

Previous episode.

All previous episodes.

Stay tuned for a new episode on Friday, we are drawing towards the end! ONLY TWO EPISODES TO GO! Until then, feel free to roam this site for all the goodies it has to offer.

 

 

Secret Weapon – Ep. 40 of “The Marquis”

The Manor’s main hall is intimidating. It was intimidating when I first saw it on the Night of Venice, but now it’s nothing short of crushing with the Marquis’ deadly soldiers-in-black replacing the partying crowd’s laughter. They’re lining a long, impressive table, heavy chandeliers hanging from the high ceiling, the immense space crawling with whispers.

The Marquis and I sit at the head of the table, and I feel mighty awkward with everybody staring at me like I’m the Queen. The diamond ring on my finger draws serious attention. Kieran’s men look at it and at each other, all of them baffled but for a few exceptions – Zed, whose stony features and ice-blue eyes are fully restored, and Joyous the big-boned, eerie-eyed Healer; the Marquis’ most trusted men, who’ve been with us every step of the way.

There are more soldiers present – serpent men loyal to the Marquis – than I imagined. Probably over three dozen of them. Maybe not enough to stand against the Black Monks, Inspector Jeremy Simmons’ vassal Special Forces and the Elite’s mercenaries, but surely enough to make a point about how much they respect Kieran Slate, a.k.a. the Marquis de Vandenesse.

“You’ve always been our leader, whether official or not,” one of them says after Kieran talks about our plan. “We’ve always followed you, but this is pure suicide. We can’t simply attack the Black Monks, they’ll freaking roast us before we get to say ‘charge’.”

“Hear him out, Lugo,” Zed cuts in. He still sounds weak, but then again, only a few hours ago his flesh was practically turning into ashes on his skeleton, so no wonder the healing exhausted him.

“Saphira here,” Kieran continues, “my future wife, has a special talent. She’s a painter whose work amazed and intrigued, but recently we discovered her talent has more powerful underlays.”

He chooses his words well as he tells about my ability of making what his men called “voodoo pictures” that can take over all harm done to a person, leaving the person unscathed. At the right moment Zed stands and bares a part of his tattooed back where the last remains of the bubonic plague are visibly healing.

“I owe this to Saphira Lothar,” he declares, giving me a deeply grateful look, and going on to explain what happened. The man who first spoke – Lugo – stares at me like I’m turning into a mermaid with every word that leaves Zed’s mouth.

“This is a miracle,” he says. The crowd turns restless, but Kieran’s voice rises over them. Everybody falls silent, eyes stuck to him, drinking in his words.

“Saphira is the ace in our sleeve. She agreed to make pictures of all of us – it can be only sketches, she’ll add the ‘flesh’ to them as we go along – and she’ll keep restoring them while the curses hit us. Nevertheless, there’s a catch. We’re outnumbered, so Saphira might have a very hard time keeping up with the Black Monks’ ‘blows.’ It would drain her of her vital energy. So we need to go about this in an energy-saving way.”

Lugo frowns. “What do you mean, in an ‘energy-saving’ way?”

“We need guerrilla tactics. We first dispatch scouts to find out who are the Monks’ most important people, their leaders, their secret weapons, and we go for those. We try to keep in the shadow, unnoticed, for as long as possible in order to avoid as many blows as we can. And, of course, one of us has to go for the head of the octopus – Ivan Basarab, the Slayer. I will gladly take on the task.”

Lugo jolts forward and bumps into the table, that’s how much the statement charges him. “You know who he is, Marquis? You finally discovered that bastard’s true identity?”

Understandably, Kieran hesitates. There’s no easy way to put this, since Ivan Basarab is literally no easy man to pin down thanks to his very special power.

Kieran licks those sensual lips that look like sin, preparing to speak, but the doors open and Jeanie Simmons enters the hall, followed by a squad of serpent-men. It looks like she had just been saved from her brother’s hands and returned to her beloved Joyous’ arms that open broadly to receive her. Her sweet dark curls bounce up and down as she runs to the Healer, her otherwise milky face on fire, and her eyes still wide with fear.

“The people in town,” she calls out once in the safety of Joyous’ embrace, “they gathered with torches and weapons to march here and set fire to this manor, Marquis. They want to kill you, they’re convinced you’re the source of all evil that’s befallen Northville.”

Kieran’s face turns to ice, and my heart beats like crazy – he might be ready to fight all the foes out there, but there’s no way he’d fight the town people. They’re innocent, victims of the elite string-pullers, and he’d rather die than take on them – I read every one of his thoughts and feelings on his beautiful marble face. This could be a dead-end.

I cup Kieran’s jaw with my hands, and guide him to look at me. “There will never be a better time than this to use your powers for the good, Kieran.”

His black eyes search mine puzzled. I take a deep breath and, though feeling guilty for my thoughts, I share them. “Influence their feelings, Kieran. Make them fight your enemies instead of you.”

“What? Are you –“

“Yes, I am.”

“But Saphira, if I do that and don’t get to Basarab fast enough, they will die–“

“And what will happen to them if you die? Basarab’s Monks will finish them for sure, there’s no way they’ll leave any witnesses who could tell the tale of Northville. They won’t allow the slightest bit of truth to ever come to light, because it would turn the world upside down – engineered serpent men, painters who can make ‘voodoo pictures’ of people, healers? What will the world do when it finds out that lines such as ‘everybody dies,’ and ‘we’re all only human’ are bloody mockery? Yes, Kieran, normally influencing people is wrong, is bad, it’s a big No, but in this case, it’s plainly the best thing to do.”

 

***

To be continued on Friday.

Previous episode.

All previous episodes.

Stay tuned for a new episode on Friday, we are drawing towards the end! Until then, feel free to roam this site for all the goodies it has to offer.

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The Executioner – Ep. X – When Men become Beasts

In a fraction of a second my brain spat out thoughts that fell into place like dollar signs on slot machines. Out, we had to get out, but my mouth didn’t bother to open. Not a soul would listen to me, a flimsy creature with a little voice, it didn’t take a genius to know that. I didn’t even present enough interest for anybody to attack me.

Damian was my best hope of making myself heard, but he wasn’t easily reachable. He’d placed himself between two of his friends, whose fists already balled by their thighs, ready to jump at each other’s throats. He’d taken the posture of a bouncer, his gaze sharp as he tried to talk sense into them. The men turned red with violent impulse against him. Months or even years as adulating Betas and Omegas had accumulated bitter envy that now fought its way out. Still, even under the influence of whatever substance floated unperceivable in the air and put them into fight mode, they didn’t dare move against him. They knew better.

Before I could reach them a mass of hysteria poured my way. The noise turned deafening. I lost Damian from sight and hurried to move out of the congestion before people’s eyes fell on me along with their wrath. My heart pounded with fear, my eyes wide and my mind alert. There wasn’t a friendly face left, every single person everywhere I looked had turned into an animal. By this time maybe even Damian and Hector.

As I found refuge by the wall, I realized my hand was cramped, clutching hard to a thick handle – the screwdriver. Air, I had to let air in, aware that soon the screaming and kicking all around would either freeze me in panic, and some unseen blow would knock me out, or that I’d end up hurting someone with the screwdriver myself, maybe even causing irreparable damage in a desperate attempt to stay in one piece.

I reached the window, the one closest to the stove, gripping to the handles and trying to jerk the frame open when my eyes struck against the black pane. I let out a startled cry.

There they were again, those eyes, now clear and perfectly defined. Like the glare of an animal caught by camera flash, they glowed bright, only that the color was clear as light – Blue. The pane broke instantly with a splintering sound, followed by a sharp pain in my knuckles. Without realizing, I’d punched the window. Then the fog of shock dissipated, stripping the truth.

Mine. Those were my own eyes. I squeezed my hand above the cuts to numb not only the pain, but also the dizzying swirl of automatic connections in my head. Luminous eyes – was it an effect of the gas?

The next thing I knew, a furious groan cracked in my ears. In the blink of an eye George gripped the pointy shard that hung from the frame like a lonely fang, and stabbed his opponent in the throat with it. I screamed as thick, dark red blood poured from under the hand the Wretch took to his wound, between his fingers and down his wrist. He opened his mouth in distorted awareness that life drained out of him, the nerves in his eyeballs exploding like red lightning while he rattled. Dying.

Maybe there was still time. I flung the coat off me and jolted to him, intent to press it on his wound and stop the bleeding, but bumped into George’s arm that punched into my stomach like a barrier of bone. Struggling for breath, I managed to pull myself up. It was too late. The Wretch crouched on the floor like a squirming pretzel, coughing out blood. The sound drilled through my brain.

Time lost meaning. I stood there, watching transfixed how this young man died. I didn’t want to see, nor could I look away. Every second of his suffering imprinted in my adrenaline-fueled heart as everywhere around fists punched, windows broke, men and women growled like beasts.

Windows break. My fault. This boy’s death was on my hands. Trying to stop the mayhem, I’d only fulfilled the prophecy. This time too, some peasant would find the place torn apart, windows broken, blood smeared on walls and rags that parents would clutch to their chests as they’d fall to their knees and cry out to heaven in despair.

Exposure. Exposure was the only chance to get the angry beasts everybody had become out into the open, out into the cold winter air that would slap their wits back into their heads. It was a long shot. But it was the only shot. Enough planning.

I turned on my heels and sprinted to the main door, grabbing coats, jackets and arms in my way, pulling hair, bumping into brawling bodies, as many of them as I could in order to draw attention. I don’t know by what miracle fists hit only the air behind me, by what newly surfaced instinct I ducked down before anybody could grab me. Maybe fear had really kicked my adrenaline level so high that my feet moved like propellers and my reflexes sharpened of their own accord.

I threw the main door open and cast myself into the raging blizzard that felt like needles against my skin. Sight instantly blurred, visibility reduced to inches, but my legs kept running as if a whole murderous army chased me.

I hoped it did. I hoped they’d gotten out of that slaughterhouse disguised as a lonely cottage, a wooden ghost in the Carpathians. I hoped I’d angered them enough to have them rush after me, screeching their teeth, thirsty to see blood drain from my body like it had from the poor Wretch. Thirsty to see me squirm in dying pain. But I also hoped that, by the time they caught me, they’d be themselves again. This wasn’t supposed to be a suicide mission, but a wake-up action.

The snow was quicksand to my legs, sucking me down, but despair fueled my otherwise lazy muscles and propelled me forward. Every glance I threw behind revealed nothing, the storm a wall both in front as well as behind me. It roared loud, swallowing all other sound. There might have been wolves just meters away, I wouldn’t have known, I wouldn’t have heard them howl or growl.

Suddenly, something thick, heavy and metallic closed around my ankle like an iron fist and jerked my leg from my hip, causing such pain that my heart stuttered out of rhythm. I fell flat on my face. Before I could spit out the snow in my mouth, a force yanked me in a pull. I snaked backwards, dead trees, roots and stones rushing by, while I desperately tried to hook my fingers in the ground.

Snow was scraping glass to my palms, and I knew exactly when a couple of fingernails sprang off. The pain was there, but just so severely unimportant that it didn’t stop me from grabbing on to every dead branch, from hooking my fingers into the frozen ground again and again. Still, I let go fast of anything stable, or the pull would’ve ripped the leg from the rest of my body. The ride was dizzying and my screaming automatic. I didn’t hope for help, nor was I scared, I just did things out of instinct. My reason shut down, and autopilot kicked in.

Only when I came to a brusque stop I began to realize the burn all over my skin. Not the face, since I’d kept it up to detect any means of saving myself, but the arms and belly. I waited a few moments for the pull to start again and, when it didn’t, I rolled on my back. My flesh was stiff. I couldn’t flex my muscles to get up, I only managed to lift my head. Torn clothes, the skin on my stomach and breasts looking like beaten meat. I cried before I touched myself, expecting pain. But there was nothing, nothing except the burn, as if everything under skin level was completely numb.

Whimpering, I put snow on the reddest places with a stiff hand, but even that small amount of wit fled off when a pair of legs in earth-gray pants and rubber boots emerged from the white storm. The face cleared from the curtain of snow only when it was really close above mine. A face withered by many winters, with ashen stubble and a rotten grin. A face that might once have been peasant’s, but belonged now to a blood-thirsty animal. Not for a second did I have hope. I knew he was there to hurt me, I saw it in his eyes.

He said something, but I didn’t hear it. The storm’s roar covered the sound. He pressed his fingers on my stomach, grinning with expectation, hungry for the pain. But, when nothing came, he tightened his lips in anger and threw himself over me. With sadistic appetite, he crushed his fist into my face.

The blow felt like lightning in the most literal sense. Then it all went black for moments, until the next one came. Then the next one, until I tasted blood in my mouth. He wasn’t going to stop. He’d beat me to death, leaving my corpse disfigured.

In a surge of despair sight resurfaced, bringing the madman’s face in sharp focus. That ugly face with a bad, stinking grin. The face of an evil maggot who didn’t deserve to live. Who thrust himself at a helpless woman, taking her for an easy prey, for a chunk of meat on which to unleash his killer instincts.

Anger fueled my blood, pumping like frantic petrol in my veins, making me feel as strong as a machine gun. I let out a cry of rage and sank my fingers in his eye sockets, pushing my thumbs hard in the jelly of his eyeballs and wishing for the rusty screwdriver I’d dropped at the cottage. He grabbed my wrists and tried to pull away, but I didn’t let him. I wound my legs around his waist, sticking to him as a leech.

“Oh, no, we’re going all the way, asshole!” I could only hope he heard me. I wanted him to feel the fear. To be in the victim’s shoes. To become the victim to the very marrow of his bones. I could not let him live. I would not let him live.

“I’ll fucking suck the life out of you!” I screamed.

He fell to the ground with me, wriggling like a stabbed snake, but went smart enough to move his hands from my wrists and grab my shoulders. He rolled over me. Applying more strength, I felt the fingernails I had left pierce his eyeballs, but just a moment later something made of fur knocked him hard from my hands. He flew to the side, followed by more stripes of fur that leaped after him. I got up on my buttocks and squinted through the blizzard. Though I didn’t see anything, I did hear his cries and faint animal growling. Wolves, those strings of fur were wolves.

For some reason fangs felt more threatening than the rusty chain that still coiled around my ankle, more threatening than the man’s sadistic glare, than his blows. I got up to my feet, slowly walking backwards, my eyes darting left and right, careful for the rest of my body not to make a sudden move. They could still have been very close. I bled, which placed me far down the food chain and would make them put up a fight for my flesh.

I dragged my leg with the heavy chain until one wrong step sent me stumbling backwards. My body smashed against rocks. I fell for long moments down some endless slope, blow after blow hard in my ribs and crack after crack loud in my ears. I didn’t even get to feel any pain. It all stopped with a knock in the back of my head, and light began to close in on a small moon. That face again. Those eyes. The brightness fizzed in them like flickering neon and I was sure this was it. My muscles relaxed and my lungs gave out one last, resigned breath.

***

Enjoyed this? Find the previous episodes here: Prologue, Episode I, Episode II, Episode III, Episode IV, Episode V, Episode VI, Episode VII, Episode VIII, Episode IX. More coming up next week! Until then, keep enjoying the goodies on this site, from personality tests to online stories – check out the dark mysteries of The Marquis here.

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Eros and Thanatos – Ep. 39 of “The Marquis”

The dark tower provides a large view over the fields. Kieran’s serpent eyes penetrate the night, while I stand in the alcove opposite from him, looking up at the painting I made a felt century ago.

The painfully handsome Marquis de Vandenesse looks down at me from the wall, his marble features as ruthless as a young devil’s, but the black eyes that used to scare the life out of me have a creamy softness to them. Indeed, like Kieran pointed out on the Night of Venice, the portrait seems a confession. It allows a glimpse of the boy Kieran Slate behind the powerful Marquis.

I feel him approach, which compels me more than his portrait. A gush of wind from the open window inflates my gown as I turn to look at the serpent Marquis who’s chained my heart to his. Tall and beautiful just like the young man in the picture, he takes my breath away. His shirt is open, revealing the marble sinews of his body, and I can’t help a surge of lust.

“The air carries the scent of death,” he murmurs, casting my senses in a daze.

I have a flashback of the moment we first met – that fated night at the Royale by the sea, when he’d first used his hypnotic powers on me.

“You promised you’d never influence my senses again,” I whisper.

“And you think I’m doing it now?”

“It feels like you are. It’s that opiate effect, numbing the pain I want to feel.”

“I assure you, it’s not intentional, but maybe automatic. I want to keep pain away from you so much, I might do it instinctively.”

He looks down at his hands, and I follow his gaze. My heart skips a beat at the sight of his long fine fingers twisting a diamond ring between them. I swallow the spike of emotion that bolts up from my heart in order to prevent embarrassing manifestations. It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to realize what he’s doing.

“A while ago I crossed Gunnar Lothar’s threshold,” he says, “asking for your hand in marriage. I asked the man I hated for what I thought would be the deadliest weapon against him. Things have taken many unexpected turns since then, and soon there was nothing left of my initial plans, but one thing never changed – my wanting to marry you, Saphira. I desire you as my wife more than I ever desired anything, even revenge. I won’t lie to you, there’s a chance that I’ll find my end tomorrow, and there’s no priest to forge our bond before that happens. All we have is tonight and the deadly breath of the Black Monks out there. Let it be our minister and seal our vows, and be sure that I’ll love you forever even from the Underworld.”

My breath catches at his words, which he speaks taking my hand in his and sliding the ring gently on my finger. It’s a bit of a loose fit, but the intensity in his dark gaze fits mine perfectly.

I stroke his cheek, taking full delight in the feel of him, and I can’t hold back a longing sigh. That sets him on fire, and he takes over my mouth in a hot-blooded kiss, lifting me in his arms. I wind my legs around him, welcoming him between my thighs, rubbing and weaving myself on him as he takes me to the bed. I’ve lost my head for Kieran Slate long ago, but now I let go completely. Death is just around the corner for both of us, so I might as well relish in our love like there’s no tomorrow.

I peel the shirt off him with feverish hands, thirsty for him as I savor his silky lips, his jaw, his neck, and lower my mouth down his smooth chest, my hands seeking the hardness in his pants. He doesn’t have much patience either, breathing hard with lust, soon taking over and kissing me into submission.

Looming over me, he guides me on my back on the satin sheets, his fiery mouth pleasuring my skin all over. Before I know it I’m lying completely bare under him, while he stands on his knees over me, a beautifully shaped marble devil, naked and growing bold. He’s big and hard for me. His hand sinks and my hair, twisting and tugging as he brings himself to my lips. Making sure I want it as much as he does, he glides down my mouth.

His smooth hardness slides over my tongue to my throat, turning me on so bad that I moisten and writhe, my face on fire. I can’t refrain from clasping his backside and guiding him deeper, making him grind into my lustful mouth and moan with unrestrained pleasure. He flexes and clenches his fist in my hair, gritting his teeth and knitting his brows as if it’s too much for him, and then, completely unexpectedly, he retreats and curls at the end of the bed.

I don’t know what just happened, and I stare at him rocking like a hiding child. I crawl to him and touch his shoulder, ready to beg him to come back and take me, but he tenses yet more.

“Please, Kieran, look at me,” I whine, but he’s bracing himself so tightly that the flesh under his fingernails is even whiter than the rest of him, his face hidden, his lamentations low but heartbreaking. I go gently to my knees before him, caressing his thick, black hair. I keep insisting until his face dashes up, and the sight of him sends ice slithering down my body.

His eyes are the black blisters of the serpent, his lips like black leeches, and his flesh turns glutinous as scales slowly replace the skin. I don’t know by what miracle I manage to catch the outcry in my throat before it reaches my mouth. Every cell in my body screams to get away from him, but I force myself to keep still – this is the man I love, a victim of bastards with power over science.

My hand shakes slightly as I take it to his face, brushing a tendril away from his now snake-skinned forehead.

“This is too much for me, Saphira,” he pleads. “My basic instinct runs wild at sudden pleasure, and the beast comes out. I want to make love to you, so bad, but if I lose control fully, it’s very dangerous.”

“Don’t think about that,” I whisper, bringing my face within an inch of his. “This is true love. I love you and I trust you, Kieran.”

A blood tear slithers down his cheek that slowly changes from serpent scales to glutinous mass, then to beautiful ivory skin. His blister-like eyes are still pained and deeply worried, but he does allow me to get closer and closer. I force myself to keep my eyes open as my lips touch his, expecting them to feel like the black leeches they look, but instead they’re dry and pleasant. His kisses are gentle, and his tongue careful as it seeks mine.

There’s a lump in my throat as I imagine that split serpent tongue exploring my mouth, and indeed I feel the two tips, coarse and cold, but their touch is so shy that it makes me grow downright audacious. I sink my hands in his hair and pull him over me on the bed, inviting him to push his tongue down my throat, even though chill after chill runs down my skin.

Flashes of that tongue pulling Pukov’s stomach out lash at me, the white tablecloth splattered with blood, the coiling and wriggling under Pukov’s shirt. But Kieran Slate is the man I love, and I want him inside of me, even if that means having him between my legs in his serpent form.

But instead of disturbing, his love turns out sensual and intoxicating, and I find myself wanting more and more of his scales on my skin. I finally understand that the snake-man is as much part of Kieran Slate as his hypnotic powers, and if we’re both going to die soon, I want to experience him to the deepest level, and to the last cell.

“Use your powers on me, Kieran,” I whisper. “I want to be high on you, and I want an overdose.”

The words are a powerful catalyst for Kieran. His eyes, at first stunned, then confused and then profound, pour themselves like a black drug into mine, and cast me in a spiral trance. I let go of all reason, and my mind goes blank, leaving me fully prey to the sensations Kieran gives me, making me arch and moan under his kisses and caresses.

My thighs part to accommodate him as he slides deep inside me, long and hard and smooth. Moist and lascivious I grind my hips to meet his moves, riding towards the climax that makes all my muscles flex, and Kieran Slate shows his true face above me – his features are prominent, beautiful and white as ivory, while his black eyes bleed, and his sensual mouth lets out moans of pleasure.

I’m still convulsing with the remains of climax as he drops on his back by my side, taking me in his arms and kissing my forehead and my lips and my cheeks. The opiate haze he’d cast over me begins to lift, and I come back to a feeling of happiness and fulfillment that pulses in my chest.

“I love you, my bride.” His voice is creamy and rich, and his hands restless as they caress my body like he worships me.

“And I adore you, Kieran.”

***

To be continued on Friday.

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The Picture of Kieran Slate – Ep. 38 of “The Marquis”

“All weakness of the flesh passes on to the voodoo picture,” the young butler mutters to himself, staring in awe at the portrait of Zed that blackens and crumples with the pestilence that until now had been eating at his body.

The meaning of all this sends my neurons spinning, making me barge out of the room and run down the grand stairs towards Kieran’s study, my bare feet slapping the granite floor. The double doors open as I haste toward them, and Kieran appears, my heart surging at the sight of him.

Those pitch black eyes that I love beyond all reason and common sense meet mine. I lose the last bit of control over myself and jump in his arms, practically assailing him. He says my name with the reverence of a priest invoking an angel as he lifts me, and claims my lips like a starved animal.

I savor the feel of his hot, silky kiss with every fiber of my body, and I hold him so tight that my muscles hurt.

“I’ll never let you go again, never,” he says in his intoxicating, low voice. We kiss desperately again and again, only pausing to drink in the sight of each other’s faces, touching each other as if we both want to make sure this is real.

Remembering I must look much like the loser of a boxing match, I search for my own reflection in the black luster of his irises – I’m indeed disheveled and I seem a ghost, but I can’t see the bruises. I speak my mind before I think it.

“Medicine man’s talents extend to face-lifts?”

Kieran doesn’t find it amusing, and pain distorts his youthful features.

“I’d be just as crazy about you if you were a goblin,” he says. “But Jeremy Simmons and Lauren Morris will pay with their lives for what they did to you.”

“Please, Kieran, whatever happens, don’t hurt Lauren.”

A frown curls his otherwise marble-smooth brow. “Why do you defend her?”

“Long story. But fact is, she was punishing me because my father abused her when she was a child.”

“That’s no excuse for trying to beat you to death.”

“Oh, is it not?” I snap. “Didn’t you start off with the same intention? Didn’t you want to make a sacrificial lamb of me too for my father’s wrongdoings?”

His eyes become slits, his pain all too obvious as he beats his own chest with his fist.

“I wish you were inside this for one minute to feel how remorse tortures me. It sears to look at you, and yet I can’t look away. From the moment I laid eyes on you, you were like a drug, and the more I saw you, the more I wanted you until I desired you so much that it hurt, Saphira. I fell in love with you, and the deeper I fell, the more I despaired. Every time I did something to hurt you was like driving a dagger in my own flesh.” He drops his voice, a dangerous glint crossing his eyes. “I love you so much that I’d let myself be killed for you.”

He kisses me once more like a madman, taking my breath away in the most literal sense. I push him gently so I can inhale and stop my head from spinning in the wake of his love declaration that got me melting in all the right ways and places, and I catch a glimpse of the gathering behind him. I lean to the side to see clearer past Kieran, and my mouth opens as I make sense of it.

Kieran peels himself from my field of vision to clear the sight of his desk, which now serves as a stretcher for Zed. Surrounded by his peers, the Head of Security lies still as a corpse. Except that he’s very much alive, not to mention plague-free. His stony features are once again recognizable, his dark-blond hair clean, and the black skeletal fingers that Kieran had almost surgically extracted from Vivien’s flesh have skin on them again. His peers had cut the black suit off him, exposing the nakedness of his sturdy body that’s covered with tattoos, contributing even more to the intimidating look of him.

“It’s a miracle. You are a miracle,” Kieran says, turning me around and looking at me like I’m the Holy Grail.

“You know what happened with the picture I made of Zed?”

“The butler boy searched the place like crazy while we were trying to save Zed, and explained he was looking for things you could use to paint. I suspected what the whole thing was about, and as the bubonic blackness started retreating from Zed’s skin it all became crystal clear to me.”

He cups my face with his hands. “I knew there was something very special about these golden eyes of yours, I knew it all along. You see people in a way the fewest can. In the portrait you made of me you focused all humanity and vulnerability that I’d thought forever lost. It was the first thing that scared me in a very, very long time Saphira. And now it turns out you can do so much more.”

“But how . . . How is that even possible? The whole voodoo thing, I mean.”

“It’s your born potential activated by close contact with – well, with me. When I first influenced your mind with my own powers, your potential unlocked. You became subconsciously aware that the impossible is possible. Your subconscious mind pulled out that unique something that you were born with, since we are all born with one special particularity that only we can excel at, and sharpened it into a weapon. Back when you painted me you could have used that picture to hurt me; your probably did, in a way, by baring my soul in it and therefore making me love you. All people have unique talents that they can develop to more-than-human extents, but most cannot unlock their true potential naturally, like you did. Most people need psychological guidance and maybe –” he gestures at himself and his men, “ – tampering a bit with genetics. That’s why I say you’re a miracle.”

This blows my mind, and I fear I might faint. I grip tighter to Kieran’s supporting arms.

“Is it . . . magic?” I breathe.

Kieran smiles. “Let’s say it’s a kind of magic that can be explained.”

“Will this magic be enough to defeat Ivan Basarab’s Black Monks?”

A shadow falls over Kieran’s face as he understands what I’m getting at. “It could be, but it would take an enormous toll on you. Every portrait you paint using your newly discovered power draws vital energy from you, and during battle you would have to repair portraits again and again before they are consumed with plague or wounds. You can’t possibly do that for all of us, we’re two dozen people.”

“And Basarab’s Black Monks are at least a hundred. You’re greatly outnumbered, Kieran.”

“Then give me Basarab’s true name, and I will take him on, one on one.”

Joyous enters the room and intervenes. “It’s too late, Kieran. Black Monks surrounded the manor, and the catacombs are blocked halfway to the asylum. If you get out there, they’ll cast their curses on you a hundred at a time. You may be the most powerful serpent ever engineered, but with that kind of viciousness you’d be dead within the first couple of yards.”

“Plus,” I put in with a shudder, “Basarab’s identity provides more reason for worry than for hope.”

Kieran squares his shoulders and takes the powerful attitude of the leader everyone knows and needs right now. “Give me his name, and I’ll find a way to reach and eliminate him – It’s as simple as that.”

“No, it’s not.” I look around at the men’s confused faces. “Basarab has a special power of his own, and I’m afraid it’s a nasty one.”

***

To be continued on Friday.

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The Magic in Our Blood – Ep. 37 of “The Marquis”

Vivien is much too weak to move. But she’s back to herself, she’s cold, and dependant on me to cover her nakedness with thick duvets, and to arrange her pillow.

“How could that possibly help?” I inquire, still unsure of what I heard.

“Please, just trust me Saph,” she says weakly.

“But I –”

“Their voices,” she continues, her eyes wide and fixed on a spot on the ceiling as if reliving the horrors of her recent past, “their voices seemed to ooze from under their hoods when they spoke, like the scraping song of devils. They kept me in chains, hanging from a rod like an animal to be roasted, that’s how they transported me back here. They thought I was out, but I was aware. Aware, but so afraid, that I seemed feverish and unconscious. They talked about the portrait you made of the Marquis, and what it meant. You must do the same for Zed Saphira, I beg of you, and you must do it fast.”

My eyes dart from her to Joyous, who slowly approached us again, and now listens intently. I can see in his eyes that he understands more than I do.

“But of, course,” he whispers as he wraps his mind around whatever Vivien means, then exclaims, “Of course!”

He clasps my shoulders and asks me what I need in order to paint, since my tools aren’t at the manor. I look around to gather my thoughts, but the only things I can think of on the spot are clay or anything pasty, even toothpaste and sauce. At Joyous’ signal the young butler flings the double doors open and speeds out into the corridor.

Joyous’ unsettling honey eyes inspect me from head to toes like those of a man who’s just had a revelation that he can’t get enough of.

“I still don’t understand, Joyous,” I mutter. “Even if this whole undertaking is supposed to help Zed in some way, I doubt it’ll work if I don’t know what I’m doing.”

“You didn’t know what you were doing when you painted Kieran either,” he replies like a Wiseman his disciple.

“Yes, but with Kieran I –” It hits me. “Of course . . . ”

In an instant all the sense in the world swirls and settles in my mind. I’d put what I felt for Kieran into the portrait I’d made of him, I’d used my bare hands on it, I tried so hard to feel him and understand him because, even though I wasn’t yet aware of it, I was in love with him despite the fear and the disapproval I felt of and for the persona he displayed.

I walk slowly to the window at the far end, the ragged rim of the asylum-patient gown I’m still wearing trailing after me on the floor, growing heavier with every step like cumbersome cloak. The huge responsibility starts weighing on my shoulders. I feel their presence out there, the presence of the Black Monks who stand ready to cast their curses against us, spitting out their plague like snakes their venom, and the realization that our small resistance group is just placing all their bets on me has me petrify with fear.

Neither Vivien nor Joyous say another word, but I can sense their eyes on my back. A wave of self-pity washes over me – they expect far too much. We’re all doomed, if all this depends on me. I crash on the floor, bracing myself and crying desperately. My eyeballs hurt, that’s how hard I press them against my knees.

“Saphira, there’s no time to lose,” Joyous says.

Indeed, no time to lose. I slowly gather myself off the floor, wiping my nose with the sleeve.

Joyous stands by the stove where a bed sheet now hangs from the mantelpiece, the sides of it spread and hooked around the side posts. It looks like a small cinema screen. This is the canvas I’m supposed to use, along with the sauce and toothpaste and crayons and other improvised tools that the young butler managed to find, and place at my disposal on a platter by the improvised canvas.

The young butler now also stares at me with wide hopeful eyes, while Joyous does the same in a more self-controlled way. As for Vivien, she’s lying behind me on the divan, but I feel the pressure of her expecting gaze.

With a trembling, dirty hand I take one of the crayons – soft tip, thick black lead; very good quality, who would’ve thought. Focusing on such details helps me mentally leave the surroundings, and ignore the pressure.

The crayon’s black lead tip touches the sheet, leaving a dusty trail behind as it slides downwards in what’s the first line of Zed’s stony cheek. It began, and it must be finished.

The next line is more confident, and the ones that follow slide from a softer hand, one that loses span and allows reflex and flowing moves to take over. There’s more tension in one side of Zed’s face – the one I drew with more controlled, reason-guided strokes in the beginning – but the other half loses the stony aspect, and reveals some of the softness of character I sensed beyond it during all the time I’ve known him. I immerse myself in his confession about how he met Kieran, feeling his loyalty, but also his vulnerability.

The scar Kieran had left on his face the night Zed attacked me was already only a fading white trail the last time I saw him, but I draw it nonetheless, making the portrait more human. I mix the materials the butler prepared, and use the pasty composition to build Zed’s features and the shades of a real-life face using my bare hands, just like I had with the picture of Kieran Slate.

And just like with that picture, I’m now fully drenched with the thick liquid of Zed’s vital energy. It seems to flow from my fingertips, smearing the face now looking at me from the white sheet.

With the last touch to his eyes he seems to come to life. I take a few steps back, marvelling at a mere sketch expressing the essence of the man so strongly. But soon a bubonic blister appears on the side of his forehead, looking as if someone were burning the sheet with a cigarette at first, and then spreading down his nose like a trail of popping black warts that take over all of the picture within moments. I climb up from the trance-like state I’ve been in, and can’t believe my own eyes.

“This is extraordinary,” Joyous whispers as he walks to my side, looking at the picture with a stricken expression of his ever-present grin. “The portrait absorbs the curse from the flesh. Everything that harmed Zed now passes over to the picture.”

“It worked!” Vivien manages with as much enthusiasm as she can muster, while the young butler inspects the blackening picture closely with an open mouth and trembling fingers seeking to touch it, but not quite daring to.

“It’s amazing, Saphira,” Joyous says. “You have the power to make . . . Oh my God . . .”

“Voodoo portraits,” the young butler finishes the sentence for him.

***

To be continued on Friday.

Previous episode.

All previous episodes.

Stay tuned for a new chapter of The Executioner on Tuesday! Until then, enjoy the previous episodes here. If you don’t feel like waiting for the episodes, buy the whole book here, and enjoy a ride of suspense, mystery and love. Looking forward to reading from you! Love, Ana.

 

Pic source.

The Executioner – Ep. IX – Hellish killing techniques

I froze. “What?”

“Yes. The police ascribed the massacre at the inn to a criminal corporation, BioDhrome. They allegedly dissolved soon after the R.I.S. started on their trail, but Marius is convinced that’s bullshit. They were a corp, much too big to evaporate in thin air just like that. He’s convinced they used their power and money to . . . transform. Based on his later investigations he’s also sure there was more than organ trafficking involved.”

“More?”

“Experiments on humans. It was these experiments that became a matter beyond police competence, a matter of national security. A matter for the R.I.S., the Military and Defense. Marius tried to go deeper on this, but, as I said, he eventually hit a dead end. The R.I.S. silenced all his leads.”

“And you believe him?” I said, grinning like an idiot. This isn’t happening was on replay.

“And why not, Alice? His account fits so well with what Svetlana said that night at the Bourbon. Now she acts crazy, people try to kill us with no obvious reason and Damian’s acting all mysterious. What else could explain all this, if not that they’re after unfinished business with Cezare Lupan, as well as our kidneys and livers?”

I stared blankly at her as she went for a bag of snacks. She looked as if she chewed on her own nerves.

“It can’t be,” I shook my head. “It can’t be happening.”

“You’re in denial,” she sneered through loud gnawing.

“Cezare . . . Is that his real name?” It sounded so out-of-this world, even coming from my own mouth.

“Could be. The R.I.S. might’ve put him in a witness protection program and given him a new one.”

“Witness protection program? You’ve seen too many American movies.” Or I was indeed in denial. My reason switched to pause.

“The R.I.S. is the best disciple of the K.G.B., Alice. They do it much better than Hollywood.”

The grip of shock on my brain started to loosen against my struggles to remain under its anesthetic effect, and my mind began to wrap around the hideous reality bit by bit. A paralyzing fear gripped me.

“This is some mind-blowing shit, Ruxandra . . . Some serious shit.”

“You bet your ass.”

I was pretty hard to surprise when it came to crime, since burglars, armed gangsters, pimps and hookers were an issue in Constanta as they were in as good as all cities of Romania. I was used to walking among such people every day in the streets. I’d gone to school and played hopscotch with their kids until they’d gone rogue, like their parents.

Ruxandra herself was the daughter of a gypsy shylock with a belly like a balloon and a threatening dark frown, who’d insisted that Ruxandra remain illiterate, and planned her marriage for the age of twelve. Luckily, her mom had run away with her and her sister, and fought for their education. Whenever Ruxandra disclosed her roots – which happened as often as a solar eclipse – jaws dropped and eyes popped. I guess we both strived to bury our origins, and that had welded our bond. Her sister, Carla, on the other hand, was not at all ashamed with her heritage, but she didn’t wear it printed on a t-shirt either.

Yet organ trafficking and illegal medical experimentation were a completely different level. Derailing trains and making people disappear without a trace meant power. A whole lot of power. Something we couldn’t fight. A hydra, its claws drilling deep in the Romanian underground.

“If they want our kidneys and livers they’ll get them, Ruxandra!” I squeaked, “We don’t stand a chance!”

“Pull yourself together.” She slapped my back, then jumped up and grabbed one of the metal objects from the counter. Only when she pressed it in my palm did I realize it was a short, rust-adorned screwdriver.

“What are you doing?”

“Keep it under your sleeve,” she said, tucking a knife under her own.

“But Damian said – ”

“I don’t care what he said. Right now, I don’t trust anyone in this place any more than I do People out there.”

“Rux, you’re losing it.” The words were careful to leave my mouth. She looked as manic as Svetlana had just a few hours earlier, save for the dark circles around the eyes and the sucked cheeks.

“Oh, you think?” she snapped, her face red and her brows scrunched. “There are three people here who knew about BioDhrome – Damian, Marius and Svetlana. Now you mark my words: one of them has drawn us in this trap. One of them works with those butchers hand in hand. So I’m not following a suspect’s orders. And neither are you.”

As soon as she finished her sentence she grabbed my wrist – rather roughly – and dragged me out.

The main room was loud and crowded, but she elbowed our way close to the center, where Damian and Hector answered questions worse than in a press conference with the President. George tried for the anchor role, appointing the next questions, but no one minded him. He looked overwhelmed and utterly useless. Ruxandra shot a few of her own arrows in the mix, but they didn’t hit anyone’s ears, not until she managed to clasp Hector’s arm.

“This is crazy,” she yelled, “What’s the plan?”

“There is no plan,” Hector yelled back. “We just get out of here as soon as Damian and I have checked the area.”

“Out? Fucking out? Into what, chains, knives or bullets?”

Angered, Hector pushed her into a mass of bodies. I was in the front line, her shoulder squashing my face.

“Stay here, if you prefer gas.”

“What do you mean, you troll?” she shouted after him, but he was already too far. He talked to George and pointed in our direction, making the latter nod. Proud to have gotten a direct assignment, George hurried over and led us to the putrid sofa by the stove.

“Gas, yeah,” he said as if he’d lived through this before himself. I couldn’t decide if his composure was admirable or just plain ridiculous. “Gas that doesn’t smell or burn, but that’ll blast our adrenaline levels so high, that we’ll jump at each other’s throats.”

“We’ll fucking kill each other?” Ruxandra shrieked.

“Some would end up dead, others severely wounded,” he cut her off, dropping the loaded meaning on us like a bedrock. “In any case, it would go fast. When no one, or just too few still stand, they’ll barge in. They’ll shut down the survivors and take the bodies.”

Hellish killing techniques.

“Novac told you that? Why didn’t he fucking do it from the start?”

“You use that word a lot,” George admonished. Both he and Rux seemed to be growing furious for no real reason, as if they barely waited for a pretext to catch fire.

“Oh, don’t you try to educate me, George, I’m too old for that shit!”

“Mind your fucking tone!” Before I knew it, he slapped her hard with the back of his hand. Ruxandra’s head snapped sideward. Out of instinct, I jumped up and shielded her with my palms up, bitten by George’s violence that showed in his face as if his arms had never been around her and his lips never on hers.

“For Christ’s sake, what’s gotten into you, George?”

He skirted around me, grabbed Ruxandra’s shoulders and pushed her against the wall.

“You started this, bitch! You talked too much in front of too many, now look at the panic around you. They assaulted him with questions, he gave them answers, and all hell broke loose.”

“At least you know the shit you’re in, you slobbering moron.” Her knee found a quick way between his legs. George crouched in pain, with both hands on his jewels. His face was a swollen red, his eyelids wrinkled as he pressed them shut. Ruxandra clutched his nape and the same knee kicked his mouth, while I watched dumbfounded.

The next instant George got hauled into the wall. The attacker immediately flung himself into the picture too, hands stiff like claws, hair messed up, his nostrils almost fuming – the Wretch. No longer a zombie, but a crazed animal, holding its prey in place and looking eagerly around for something to grab, something to hurt with. Ruxandra had taken care of him when he’d come back from the horror blizzard, so he must’ve felt protective of her and furious of George. Out of reflex, I followed his scowl. Nothing, there was nothing around us.

It hit me. There was nothing weapon-like, because Damian and Hector had gathered everything in piles, which were nowhere within reach. The measure was never meant to provide us with easier access to weapons, but to keep us away from them. Like a logical wire leading to it, my next thought led to the gas. One glance around the room was enough to see a number of heated arguments and fights had started everywhere. So the poison was already in. It had been in, probably in smaller check-doses, all along, maybe even on the train. It had been in yesterday, when Marius had punched those boys and provoked Damian. Tonight, when Svetlana had plunged into fits of hysteria and attacked me. It hadn’t been the alcohol consumption that had led to those clashes, but the gas. And now it poured in full power, with no color and no smell, unlike anything we’d ever experienced before, and very effective.

But where did it come from? I spun in place, getting dizzy as I searched for the source all over the room. Windows closed. The door to the corridor open, most certainly the ones to the bunkroom and kitchen too, but the entrance door was surely shut. No draught. Gas that doesn’t smell or burn. Stoves. It was the stoves.

***

Enjoyed this? Find the previous episodes here: Prologue, Episode I, Episode II, Episode III, Episode IV, Episode V, Episode VI, Episode VII, Episode VIII or buy the entire book here, to enjoy fully. And there’s more good news: The Executioner Part II is already in the fine-tuning phase, and it’s due to come out 3 – 5th of July, when we’ll have a grand promotion that will last three days – like all miracles and good things : ) Until then,

enjoy the next personality test that will reveal what your Death Quotes say about you tomorrow, and a new episode of The Marquis on Friday. Stay tuned!

Superpowers – Ep. 36 of The Marquis

Zed is on his knees, head bent, still cradling Vivien on his thighs. There’s blood on her arm. I can’t tell if it’s hers or his, but the man looking closely at Zed’s wounds springs back as if burnt with red iron.

“Shit, it’s expanding!”

Kieran hurries over, still holding my hand and therefore pulling me after him. Some kind of pestilence seems to be crawling from under Zed’s black turtleneck up his throat and square jawbone to his stony cheeks, reaching up to his eyes like the dark fingers of a malicious curse. His entire body quivers, his eyeballs roll, and he loses conscience with one single moan.

“It was the Black Monks!” Men call. They’re restless, and their voices rise with alarm.

I drop to my knees by Vivien, grabbing both her arms and straining to get her away from Zed, afraid the pestilence might leak to her as well.

“No, don’t!” Kieran hunkers down by me. I look at him, at that beautiful marble face that I’d do anything for.

“What if it spreads to her?” I urge.

“It won’t. This is a curse of the Black Monks, technically a shot of the same plague they carry around as punishment for their so-called powers. Since the curse was meant at Zed it can’t expand to Vivien, but his fingers clawed into her flesh at the impact, and we can only separate them very gently. It’s practically surgery, which we need to do ASAP, but we can’t do it here.” He jumps to his feet to help his men balance Zed and Vivien on their joined arms, and we start down the catacombs toward the manor.

A number of Kieran’s men fall behind with torches that cast heat and orange light up the chilly, humid walls of the tunnels. They’re probably making sure no one breached through to chase us. Kieran glances back at me often, but I know he’s worried sick about Zed.

They drop the cargo in the middle of the manor’s entrance hall, on the cold granite floor. Kieran and his men are all over Zed and Vivien like a squad of surgeons indeed, and occasionally one of them runs down the echoing hallway and returns with scissors, chopsticks and other instruments, the use of which they must improvise.

I approach with small steps and manage to catch a glimpse of Kieran’s marble hands expertly extracting one of Zed’s blackened skeleton fingers from Vivien’s flesh. It goes slowly and painfully for her – her blood-smeared thigh shivers in the process, but she’s too drained to scream. It must be true torture. The sound is both crackly and clammy, sending a shudder through me, but I have to be there for Vivien, so I keep my ground.

As soon as they’ve separated Zed and Vivien like mother from newborn, the young butler I met a while ago lifts Vivien in his arms and, following Kieran’s command, starts towards a warm room. Kieran presses a surprise-kiss on my lips and, before I know what hit me, he turns and leads the men carrying Zed down the hall, his sleeves rolled up and his hands bloody, ready to go on working to save Zed.

I follow the young butler to a bedroom on the first floor, where he lays Vivien on a divan by the window. He runs to fetch the one person that can help fast – Joyous – while I use the scissors on the grey sack covering Virgin Vivien’s emaciated body to wash her wounds. I also begin to feel the aftershocks of chase and strain myself. The pain in my ankle is a pulsing nag as Vivien’s pale, skinny, but still beautiful shape reveals itself naked before me. The signs of hurt on her sting my heart.

The spots where Zed had sunken his fingers in her flesh are black, suppurating holes. They smell rancid but sweet at the same time. She begins moving her head from one side to the other, moaning in growing pain as her flesh starts to tremble. I’m looking around desperately for something when the doors open, and Joyous enters the room.

I get out of his way as he approaches Vivien’s divan, thanking God that he exists – by whatever miracle. He looks down at her with those eerie eyes the colour of honey, his decadent ringlets framing his unnaturally bony face like magical tentacles.

He puts his hands on her thighs. Her flesh dips as he massages upward toward her hips and ribs and breasts. It looks erotic, but the vibe between them exudes nothing of the kind. There’s an aura of blending between them as Joyous’ strength appears to flow into Vivien, and regulate her chemicals and vital functions.

Which is exactly what happens, as he explains when he’s done, lifting his hands from Vivien’s now still body. There’s an expression of heavenly relief on her face as she lets out quiet sighs, her round breasts rising and falling as she breathes with ease.

“My body chemicals act like magnets,” Joyous tells me. “Have you heard about Mesmer?”

“Yes, one of the first hypnotists, very famous. That’s where the word ‘mesmerizing’ comes from.”

“That’s right. He used to have the same effect on people, but mainstream medicine struck down his talents and gave other explanations for what happened. But there was something very powerful to what he did that they failed to understand. I for one can sense where the imbalance lies in someone’s body, I sense the deficits. Practically I sense the diagnosis. Then I use my abilities to restore balance.”

“Thank you, Joyous. For what you did for her, and for me back at the asylum, we both owe you big time.” I sit by Vivien on the divan and swiftly cover her nakedness with the remains of her sack-like gown, trying to refrain from asking the question that burns in my head, but it flies out of my mouth.

“Was it the oligarch? The one who forced your abilities on you?” I keep my eyes and hands busy with Vivien. Joyous has already reached the door, but he stops and turns – I hear the swish of his soles on the granite floor as he spins round.

“Yes,” he replies quietly. “He enhanced my born predispositions.”

His story runs through my head, the story of his having been subjected to such painful experiments that they punched a permanent grimace of pain on his face, a grimace that gets mistaken for a grin. Zed and the Marquis saved him. Zed! I turn quickly to face the healer.

“Then you can surely save Zed!”

Joyous dips his head, his ringlets dangling down his forehead.

“I’m afraid there’s nothing I can do for him. What the Black Monks do is no wounding I can heal and no disease that I can cure. Ivan Basarab’s armies are well prepared to withstand or counteract all our lot’s abilities, so they’re well prepared against mine.”

“But the abilities you guys have are special, not of this world! If you can’t face up to Basarb’s minions, I don’t want to think about what chances normal people stand against them, the poor people of this town!”

“Better chances than you imagine, actually. From us Basarab knows what to expect, but not from normal people whose talents have yet to be uncovered and polished.”

“What are you talking about, Joyous?”

“All people can become as powerful as us if they unlock their potential. Everyone is born with talents that can be, let’s say, ‘engineered’ into superpowers. We could actually use fresh additions to our ranks, since Ivan Basarab knows all of our talents, and is well equipped against them.”

A faint voice reaches us, “But not against Saphira’s. Paint him, Saph.”

Vivien’s regained consciousness! I stroke the tendrils off her forehead enthusiastically. “Viv, thank God! How are you feeling?”

She squeezes my hand weakly and whispers, “Hurry, Saph, before it’s too late. Paint him.”

“Whom?”

“Zed.”

***

To be continued on Friday.

Previous episode.

All previous episodes.

Stay tuned for a new chapter of The Executioner on Tuesday! Until then, enjoy the previous episodes here. If you don’t feel like waiting for the episodes, buy the whole book here, and enjoy a ride of suspense, mystery and love. Looking forward to reading from you! Love, Ana.

 

Pic source.