Kenneth and Colleen were running as hard as they could as they ran from building to building in a night where the moon was playing hide and go seek with clouds.
The city of Eqamour seemed strangely quiet as they fled.
The two figures looked frantic as they ran looking for safety. One was an attractive and athletically built woman with brown eyes and silky brown hair in a black cloak with its hood pulled up. The other person was a rugged looking athletically built man with blue eyes and straight blonde hair, also in a matching black cloak and hood.
They both raced through the dark backstreets of the large city as they tried to make their way to the cities edge, hopefully to safety.
Finally they reached an alley between buildings, and they frantically looked behind them to see if they were being pursued. They didn't necessarily feel safe, just less exposed hidden deep in the shadows.
"What's ... going on? What... (huff) is ... happening?" asked Colleen as she gasped for desperately to gather her breath.
"I'm not ... sure. Something... (huff huff) ... is behind ... us ... but ... what I'm ... not sure (huff) where it is... ," gasped Kenneth himself.
Kenneth was impressed with Colleen. She managed to not only keep up with him, but she was leading him as she headed to a more secure location so they could stop and catch their breath. If it wasn't for the situation they were in Kenneth would have found himself greatly admiring her.
"We... (huff) ... need to ... report this," said Colleen as she tried to look past Kenneth and watch for any issues as he first made a connection. She knew that he would watch over her as she made hers.
Kenneth closed his eyes and opened his connection. Once he opened it he re-opened his eyes signaling that he had made the connection. Colleen closed hers and then re-opened her pretty brown eyes as her own connection was completed.
"What's the situation? Why do you seem agitated," said the voice in their minds.
"Master Wolfgang, we have a problem. First Tamera disappeared earlier tonight. We split up into two teams and Tamera was to be used to insuring that anything we had was shared and wasn't hinged on a single team. But she never made it to the meeting point to meet Toby and Chase," thought Kenneth
"Hold on," said Wolfgang
After a moment he came back to talk again with the other two.
"I can't get a hold of anyone but you two, what else happened. Where is Toby," demanded Wolfgang,
"Toby has been killed and Chase has also gone missing without a trace. Whatever happened to Tamera must have also happened to him. From what we can see he just disappeared, " said Colleen.
"We lost both of them while we were looking for Tamera," said Kenneth
"You'd better fill me in," said Wolfgang sternly.
Wolfgang was already sure Toby had been killed since his node disappeared from the network, but he desperately hoped against hope for the first time in centuries he was wrong in what he felt. It was apparent that he wasn't.
But right now he needed to do what he had to too keep the other two calm as he assessed the situation.
Both Kenneth and Colleen took turns filling him in with what they found.
"So you believe the bodies we've been investigating in the other cities are definitely tied to this city?" asked Wolfgang
"Yes. It seems that something is going and this city is at the center of it. Someone was testing out something in the various towns and villages around this city. And that's what struck us as odd. By using all the other teams reports it seems that this city is in the middle of all of the deaths, but yet no one here has been is affected," said Colleen.
"That is what is so strange as well. No one will talk to anyone. Even though Tamera got a job as a serving wench she couldn't even "flirt" any information out of anyone. Everyone is so tight lipped I get the impression they are scared to talk. I've never seen her fail at getting men to talk about anything she wanted to know," said Kenneth.
"Ken, was this really the best use of your team? Why have you waited so long to relay all of this?" asked Wolfgang sounding irritated.
"We only had hunches and nothing solid to report. Chase and Toby were investigating some of the rumors we received from the other spies around some of the nobles being part of this. We only just now found the body of Toby and Chase was no where to be found," said Kenneth.
"And Master Wolfgang we tried to be careful and to blend in, but something isn't quite right here. We were made as outsiders almost immediately when we got here and no one really wanted to talk. We knew that the other six spies all either disappeared or turned up dead so he did this to try and give us a better chance at getting the information to you.
Colleen interrupted saying "If Kenneth hadn't split us up into groups, staggered when we entered the city, and made the two of us look like a married couple we might have all gone missing without reporting in. When we watched Chase and Toby asking casually about the rumors you could see people stop talking and staring at them. Thankfully they didn't realize we were all together."
"Did you find out any information about the missing children from the other towns and cities?" Wolfgang asked
"In our investigations we found it was not only teens but any attractive young men and women went missing as well. Colleen and I were trying to find out more about the King they have here. No one talks about him directly as if they are scared of him. The reports of his castle being several miles outside the city were correct. It's like he's hiding something.
"And it also seems that the reports about him having no sexual preference when it comes to men or women and his perversions are very well known. That is one of the few facts would could confirm with the people in town. I personally believe he's behind all of this somehow. It just feels like he's keeping the people here terrorized," said Kenneth as he suddenly looked out into the street from deep with in the shadows.
Something caught his eye.
Something wasn't right. What made him look out into the street was a feeling of an absence of something rather than because he saw something.
While Kenneth was looking into the street trying to figure out what he missed he positioned himself to better protect Colleen in case anyone tried to enter the dead end ally.
"Colleen, what is your opinion on that? Did you find that to also be the case?" asked Wolfgang.
"Colleen?" asked Wolfgang again.
Quickly turning to look behind him to see why she hadn't answered, Kenneth realized that she was gone! All he could now see was the blank wall where Colleen had been standing behind him.
"Ken, what is going on!?" asked Wolfgang mentally.
Wolfgang had just lost his link to Colleen. It was as if she shut off her mind to him suddenly.
Before Kenneth could answer he jumped to the side to avoid the blow that he sensed more than saw coming.
But still he wasn't fast enough.
Kenneth felt the most awful burning sensation in his chest just above his stomach. Then it felt as if his chest was on fire and was getting hotter. He knew he had been stabbed and slashed, but no stabbing wound had ever felt like this before.
"Thheee Maaassteerrr doesn't wantttt yyyooouuu. Yoooouuu aren't ppprreeeettty enough ooorrr ssssstrong eeeeenough to be usssedd," said a hissing voice from behind a dark hood.
Kenneth put his hand over the wound and could feel the slickness of the blood seeping between his fingers.
"Ken, Kenneth! What is going on!" demanded Wolfgang.
Wolfgang felt something was wrong. He had felt enough people die with an open link to know that Kenneth was in trouble. Kenneth's thoughts became random and unfocused. He was in shock and he was dying.
He realized that there was no way Kenneth would be able to heal himself in this state. He didn't have the concentration needed to use White spells.
"Master ... Wolfgang ... please ... help me... *" trailed off Kenneth, as he dropped to his knees.
As Kenneth fell he grabbed the cloak of the man in front of him and the dead weight of his falling body caused him to pull it free of the man. Kenneth's eyes grew wide as he took in the face of the man, the thing, before him.
"Kenneth! Listen to me. You must do this! Quickly, repeat after me!" said Wolfgang insistently.
Wolfgang had trained his spies well enough that they followed his commands without thought. Kenneth, even though he was dying, repeated the spell quickly and easily.
Suddenly there was a brief flash in front of Kenneth's face and then he completely collapsed backwards on the ground. The man before him saw his hands go lax, was curious about the brief flash, and he then kicked Kenneth's body to check its condition.
Satisfied he looked halfway up the wall at two others who were clinging to the wall just above them.
"Leeeet uuuussssssss leeeeaaaave," said the man as he held his torn cloak closed.
The two others were dressed similarly as he was and they all leaped for the roof of the nearest building in the darkness without missing a beat.
The three of them disappeared into the night Colleen's unconscious body was slung over one of the men's shoulders.
Wolfgang was pacing in his study seething.
He had lost another team. So far this investigation cost him two separate spies who went in on their own in two different cities. Then it was a team of four trying to investigate the town two days east of this city Eqamour. He had hoped this team would fare better, but they hadn't.
On top of those losses they killed Toby.
Wolfgang felt as if someone had kicked him in the stomach, and he sat down heavily in the chair as he let himself finally feel the implications of what that meant.
He recalled Toby's youthful face so full of freckles and his uncombed sandy blonde hair. Toby was always coming around as a young child saying that he would one day work for Wolfgang. Toby always said working for Wolfgang was his dream.
Toby worked and trained hard to win Wolfgang's approval. When it was discovered that he was a mage Toby was so overjoyed that he couldn't wait to tell Wolfgang. Wolfgang remembered the day he joined Toby to his mental network as well as working with the boy teaching him everything he needed to know. Toby was almost like a son to him. The son he never had.
The boy was barely eighteen seasons old.
And now he was gone.
Wolfgang's eyes burned but he wouldn't give in to the feelings and cry. He never should have let Toby go, but they desperately needed information in that area and Toby was one of his best.
This evil needed to stop and it needed to stop now. Eight good people under his direction gave their lives to find the heart of this disease and now that they had pinpointed the central location Wolfgang realized that he would be the one to cut it out.
Thankfully he had already put into motion a new plan to rid that kingdom of its disease if Kenneth was correct. He knew that with his new plan to end this nightmare it would only end one way.
As Wolfgang sat he waited for the moment that he would sense that Kenneth had died.
This wouldn't be the first time that someone had died while their link was open with him, and Wolfgang would honor the brave man as he sat with him to witness his final moments.
He could feel Kenneth's hold on life slowly slipping away as he died from some unknown wound. Wolfgang couldn't let Kenneth go through his death alone. It was all he had left to offer Kenneth as he passed on.
But as he waited with Kenneth he replayed the image sent to him from the last spell Kenneth used. It was a "picture spell" allowing him to mentally send Wolfgang what he saw. It was a brief image of what Kenneth was looking at in Eqamour when he was attacked.
Wolfgang hated to use that spell, because there was an extremely high chance the user would go immediately blind if they used it just once, but Kenneth was already dying, so his forcing Kenneth to use the spell would help him put a face with his killer.
Wolfgang had to make the hard call whether to have Kenneth use the spell or not to and have it aid him. But he didn't regret now having the information that he so desperately needed.
As he sat alternating between seething and sorrow he replayed the last thing that Kenneth's saw.
The man before Kenneth had short cropped spiky hair, but that wasn't what was weird. The man's nose looked like someone had cut it off and it was just two holes in his face. He had long ears like an elf, but had a pinched face and eyes like a goblin. But the man was too tall to be one either.
With his mnemonic memory Wolfgang would remember that horrific face until he died, if ever.
Wolfgang was at a loss for what the man was as he sat with Kenneth for his final moments. He was waiting until Ken's node disappeared from his network signaling his death.
Soon he would to go into the city and explain to both Toby and Kenneth's families that their son's wouldn't be coming home. Then he would need to tell yet another family that their children were missing and he had no idea when they were coming home. He had done something similar with the confirmed deaths of the other teams. Those whose nodes were still active, but he couldn't contact, he waited for confirmation.
Doing this duty was one thing that Wolfgang hated more than anything he ever had to do, but it wasn't something he would ever pass on to someone else. These men and women were under his direct orders and he would be the one to carry out this last act to honor them.
Wolfgang also realized that he would need to dispatch a few more spies to recover the bodies of the known dead so that they could be buried back here at the place that was their home.
Kat was walking through the back streets of Eqamour in the bad part of town and she was in a bad mood.
It took all her power not to walk over and hurt the latest man for his obscene comments made at her expense as he called out to her from his side of the street.
Just what kind of man thought the crude things he suggested were flattering to a woman? How could anyone believe that women would be impressed by something so crude or would take that comment any other way but as an insult?
She was mad, but it was also a combination of sexual frustration caused by her voluntary vow of chastity combined with newest irritation of the comment that got under her skin. Things hadn't been looking up for her with men lately and she just wanted to be left alone by every one of them.
But her Succubus nature was fighting her chastity decision tooth and nail.
Ever since her run in with the Vampire a few months back she hadn't needed to be with a man for any reason. Not that she had found any prospects that might interest her in any of the town's she visited. So far all they wanted to do was grope her or press her up against something so they could touch her body.
Thankfully she was stronger than she looked so she didn't need to use a touch of her magic to make them see the error of their ways. A well placed knee was always her best weapon. It was something all those pigs should have seen coming. Kat couldn't believe the number of men who tried to pin her against something and always spaced their legs apart when they did.
But right now she was walking back to her small room. Kat had a job as a serving girl, or serving wench as they called her in the tavern. It was the only one that didn't require she audition on her back for the job. So she took the job there.
Kat was low on money because she had used the money she was carrying to travel to buy food and other necessities. A few different times she ran into families that were so down on their luck they were starving. It broke her heart to see how thread bare and ragged their clothing was. She could see how thin and frail the children and parents looked.
There was no way Kat could ignore any of them.
She made it a point to help them out when she could. She did everything from buying them food and bringing it to them, to those she met on the road giving them some of her quickly diminishing funds. Kat couldn't stand by and let them starve if she could help it.
As she walked though the streets she was tired. One thing she didn't want to touch, unless she couldn't help it, was the magic she received from the Vampire on his death. Even now she could feel it inside of her. It was an impressive amount that she added to her own. She sparingly used it as little as possible.
Walking past a dead end alley Kat heard something. It was soft and it was faint, but it was familiar to her. Stopping she waited. She heard it again.
She was taking cautious steps into the alley when she saw the body of a man whose hand covered a nasty wound in chest just above his stomach.
Moving quickly Kat walked up to him as she peered around in the shadows. She didn't see anything moving, but that meant nothing. There was always something that was prepared to leap out of the shadows if she wasn't careful.
Kat touched the man's head and realized that he didn't have much longer to live.
Quickly she used her White magic and concentrated on seeing how bad off he was. She realized that there were two things wrong with the man. One his eyesight was being destroyed by a magic spell as well as his obvious wound.
Putting one hand over his eyes and one over the hand on the wound, Kat started to heal both problems. This was tricky and might not work, but she had to try. At best he would be a touch near sighted but he would retain his vision. Kat reasoned that being near sighted was better than being blind.
Quickly finishing his eyes, she then concentrated all her efforts on the wound. But something wasn't right. While she was able to stabilize his life she couldn't heal the wound.
Moving his hand she decided to examine the wound.
When she did she heard the man moan something that sounded like "Wolfgang" but she had no idea what a "Wolfgang" was. Kat ignored him as possibly something he mumbled in fevered pain.
Kat almost recoiled in shock as she got a good look at the affected area.
She was sure that given all the fresh blood on the ground around the man that he was just stabbed, but the wound looked infected and had puss oozing from it. It looked like this was an old wound that had somehow gotten infected.
Kat immediately switched to working on dismantling the Black spell that was obviously left behind by whatever had been used to stab the man. Thankfully most of the mage's she had been with had been various types of mages, but there were a few well trained White mages.
So far Kat hadn't ever been with a pure Black mage, but all the other mages she drew her knowledge from knew enough that she could heal this man. Even the spell she used to repair the man's eyes wasn't a known spell. It was one that the last White mage she had been with before she stopped her killing spree had just created it.
She wanted to feel bad that she had killed him, because he was a brilliant mage, but he was one of those who traded his gifts for forced sex with women. It didn't matter if she was married or spoken for. It didn't even matter to him if she was the sole daughter of someone who needed his help.
If you wanted or needed his help his only price was the female of his choice who was close to the person in question. Most often he would make those who brought the female to him watch as he took his pleasure from her. If it was a husband he made them watch as he had his way with wife before he healed the one who needed his help. It was the same if it was the daughter he wanted. The only difference was that he would make both parents watch.
As such only the truly desperate, or those who had exhausted all other choices, came to him and he knew that they would meet his asking price. He was just that good a mage.
Kat pretended to be the one in need of his aid, and when he when he tried to collect from her it was his last day on earth.
No Kat wasn't sorry at all that White mage was one of her victims during the early days.
It happened back when she first was at first ridding the kingdom of only the vilest of men. If only she hadn't gone off the rails and stopping being able to make distinctions between good, evil, and her personal justifications. If she had then she could have looked back on that time as something sorely needed in the world with pride, instead of it being a time that was mixed with shame.
But as she concentrated she could feel the Black spell dissolving and the man started to be healed. The only thing she was sure of was that it would be days before he awoke, maybe even several weeks. While she could heal damage and trauma to the body, the body had to do its part and recover itself from the massive damage.
The more she thought about it, the more Kat was sure that combined with the Black spell the man was infected with he would be out for probably several weeks.
Now that he was basically healed Kat picked him up and hung his limp body over her shoulder. She had no idea if he was a good guy or a bad guy. She just couldn't leave him in the alley to die or have someone stumble on the body and kill him.
As she walked she tried to keep to the shadows to disguise the fact she was carrying a man across her shoulders as she made her way to her room. There Kat put him in the only bed she had and tried to make him comfortable as she made a pallet on the floor to sleep on.
In the morning she would talk to the Inn keeper's wife to see if she would check in on him while she worked.
As she sat watching the man her mind wandered, once again, into something it had over a hundred times before. Sitting up with the man she wondered if she would have felt the same level of concern over the children she knew that she would have had by now with Elliot.
With that thought followed the same thoughts Kat had that always followed any thoughts Kat had about Elliot.
If she had just never met William, the Duke's son of her home city, in that Tavern so long ago.
If she just hadn't listened to him that time.
If she had just gotten up from the table where she was sitting with him, and left without looking back when he started talking about teaching her how to have sex like the nobles did.
If she just hadn't been so damn curious about the lives of Nobles...
If she had just stayed with only with her friends.
If she had just told Elliot what she and William talked about
If she had just...
If she had just...
If she had just walked away and never looked back. If she had her life to live over, it would be so different now. She wouldn't be so all alone all the time.
Refusing to give in to the pain as her eyes watered, Kat stared out into the night as the tears flowed down her face.
It was times like these, when she was all alone at night in the dark, that impressed on her what she had given up because of her stupid curiosity. She knew that she had no one to blame but herself, but it still hurt at times to face this truth. Some of those times, like now, hurt far more than others when something reminded her of her past.
Eventually tired from all the nights activities Kat fell into an uneasy and fitful slumber.
What was this!
Wolfgang felt Kenneth, who was just moments from death, starting to feel like he was getting stronger. Wolfgang had been sitting with his hands clasped in front of himself as he waited for the inevitable.
"Ken ... Kenneth! Are you there?! KENNETH!" said Wolfgang jumping to his feet.
But he received no response. Kenneth's connection suddenly closed but the node was still active on his mental network and Wolfgang could feel Kenneth's presences.
Kenneth was alive!
He wasn't sure what was going on, but Wolfgang felt better now that someone had survived the attack. He would now also be able to get more information later about what was going on.
Wolfgang quickly reviewed who he had in the area to send to recover Ken. They needed to get him under Wolfgang's protection as soon as possible. But this time he was going to be sending out combat mages out instead of spies.
That way they would be better prepared to fight instead of going for infiltration.
Wolfgang quickly rose and started making plans to have Ken recovered as quickly as possible.
"Nate, I'm sorry but when Ariel does that it creeps me out every time I see it," said Terrance as he watched Ariel sitting at the edge of the camp.
Ariel was sitting flat on the ground alternating between firmly patting or rubbing the right side of the neck of a large gray wolf. She and the wolf seemed to be going back and forth, making low sounds at each other.
Every once in awhile the three men, Nathan Michaels, Terrance Combs, and Rory Goffner seated near the fire could make out the soft growls and grunts coming from her and the wolf.
Nathan, or better known as Aric Griffith the Battlemage to his family, was watching his wife Ariel, who was also better known to the world as Brianna Griffith the Scarlet Blade, as she talked with the wolf. Her flaming red hair was in dark contrast with her black vest and pants and the light grey fur of the wolf.
Nathan had no idea that one of the alterations given to her by his infusing magic into her body would be that she could so quickly learn the language of wolves because of her time with the Werewolves. He wondered if that extended to other species as well.
At times he wondered if he could do it as well.
Every time Nathan thought he had a handle on what his wife could do she surprised him with something new.
"Maybe Terrace, but you have to admit having them protect us is something nice as well. And at least we don't have to worry about predators or people sneaking up on us," said Nathan.
"Terrance you're just jealous because you don't understand them. So Nate, does this new communication skill of hers relate to your magic inside her? Does she actually gain anything useful from their conversations?" asked Rory.
"Yep, she does understand them. It seems that several months back when you guys needed to find me and I had to go find her living with the wolves she had started learning the language then. I'm still at a loss for how she understands what they are talking about. But as to gaining anything useful, she now uses the skill to gather information from the local wolves about any new area we are in," said Nathan smiling
"Ok, ok, I admit it's freaking useful, but damn man, it is still creepy," said Terrance as he looked back at the fire.
After a few minutes Ariel left the wolf after forcefully scratching between its ears. The wolf licked her face before it left and melted back into the night. Ariel came over to the fire and sat next to her husband.
"There has been something strange going on in the cities and towns around here, but nothing that the wolves can explain. They say a few times there have been are men who don't smell like men who move very quickly, passing between cities and towns. They smell like they are sick but it's not a sickness that the wolves recognize.
"They also say they have seen them from time to time around the large house not too far from here, but I believe they mean the castle at the main city," said Ariel as she looked around the fire.
"Hmm, well the contract said that we only need to find out why people are being taken and for what purpose at time from around here. It was suggested that we start in the city of Eqamour. The contract said that our employer would be happy with knowing why, but I doubt knowing the two of you that that will be enough," said Rory smiling at Ariel and Nathan.
Soon everyone started to get ready to go to sleep because they would push hard to get to Eqamour as soon as possible.
Just as Nathan started to bend over to lay out the blankets for himself and Ariel he felt something rubbing his back.
"No we need to take care of something else first," said Ariel softly
Standing and turning, Nathan saw the look in her eyes that only meant one thing.
"Ariel we can't do that with Terrance and Rory close by. That's not fair and it's kind of mean to make them watch," whispered Nathan with wide eyes.
While it had only been three days, but still he wasn't sure sex with Ariel was a good idea. He knew, without being told, that both men were heavily attracted to his wife, maybe in love with her, even though they never made a move on her.
Nathan felt it would be cruel to tease them by giving glimpses of her getting undressed, as well as letting them hear her cries during their love making session.
"Not here, in the woods. There is something I ... I mean we have to do," said Ariel softly was she half closed her eyes and smiled seductively at Nathan.
She knew this was the one look that would make him give her almost anything without question.
"Ok, but can you at least tell me why it's so important?" whispered Nathan as he gathered their blankets in one arm.
"These wolves, the Alpha I mean that I've been speaking, they with aren't part of my pack or the surrounding packs from where we come from. But they have heard of me and they want to see me and my mate. Werewolves rank higher in the pack hierarchy and as such I am of interest to all of them.
"But I'll be honest. What they really want is to witness your submission to me as a human. It's really the only condition of their continued protection of you as my pack mate," said Ariel softly as she smiled at him.
"But why? I mean we haven't ever done that..." started Nathan softly himself as he then trailed off.
Suddenly all the times she insisted that they have sex outdoors when there was a perfectly good bed close by suddenly made sense. He thought she was being adventurous, but now he realized he was having sex for an audience.
"So the real reason we've been having all kinds of sex on our missions, in all those different wooded areas, was as a right of passage for my protection with the local wolves wasn't it?" whispered Nathan as he looked at Ariel.
Ariel smiled a seductive smile as she touched his chest softly and lightly kissed his lips.
"Don't be mad, you know liked it. And I know you liked taking me from behind as I leaned back on my knees right into you that time in the forest of Tarkington. I know you remember. It was right after you let me have my way with you during our first round. The wolves were most impressed by the way you made me howl while we were doing that as I sat back hard into your lap," said Ariel playfully.
Nathan was kind of disturbed and a little put out to know that lately they were being watched by others when they made love. But he also recognized that other species had rules that didn't always follow the same convention as humans. Giving in he knew how important this was to his wife.
But he made a mental note to learn how to speak the wolves' language as soon as possible to hear what was said about him.
"I don't really get a say in this do I? And we're going to be having lots of sex in new forests aren't we?" asked Nathan as he put his arms around Ariel.
Ariel leaned in and deeply kissed him before she stepped out of his arms.
"Nope, you don't get a say and yes we're going to be doing it a lot in the forest from now on," said Ariel with a grin.
She quickly grabbed his hand and pulled him into the forest behind her.
Terrance and Rory watched them from their side of the camp. Ariel and Nathan spoke low enough that they couldn't quite hear what was being said, but they did see Ariel grinning as they disappear with their blankets into the night.
"Wonder what they do when they go off like that? I mean besides the obvious," said Rory.
"I tried to sneak off and find out once, but a wolf appeared out of no where and growled at me to warn me off. It wouldn't leave until I was headed back to camp. It was like it was guarding the path they took. I started to go around him, but the growling got louder until I headed back. I don't believe the wolves wanted them disturbed whatever it is they were doing," said Terrance as he rolled over on his side.
While still wishing it was the two of them with Ariel, both Terrance and Rory turned over on their sides and tried to get some sleep.
They knew Ariel and Nathan would be back before first light. And then they would start for the city to begin their investigations of what was happening in the area for their new employer.