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The day before the war
Captain Giolian Xenopour buttoned up his shirt and laced the nylon ties of his breeches while Anastasia lay curled up on the bed, watching him. Her elbow pressed into the mattress, head resting in her palm as she gave him a sultry and satisfied smile, partly hidden by a cascade of ruby hair with carroty highlights shining in the sun streaming through the semi-transparent curtains. Her twinkling jade eyes and sultry smile was telling him that she wanted more. However he had far more pressing matters to be concerned with than the beautiful, naked woman on the bed. While he had been training more Lavodan warriors, Giolian hadn't been to Eskiarthonas for more than three months. Time had run out and he had to gather warriors and return to the Northern front line before the break of the next morning.
"Sure you are not ready for another round?" Anastasia asked in a voice that came out in a purr as she pushed herself to a sitting position, lightly tracing one of her fingers down his scarred bi
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Mature content
The Palladium of Troy 18. Beyond Ecstasy :iconolycksalig:olycksalig 0 0
The Palladium of Troy 17. Warlock
Daraxan forced himself to continue swaying back and forth in tune with the down-beat music with Penelope in his arms, as if he was just another clubber dancing with his date, while keeping his gaze on the tall and slim badass by the edge of the dancefloor. He let his eyes take in the Sapient's slightly glittering gray skin and bald, elongated and somewhat pointy head, slanted dark eyes sans irises, and smaller secondary and tertiary eyes above them, organs for ultra- and infralights. A Merouchian warlock, it wasn't often you saw them on Earth, they tended to keep to the worlds further down on the dimensional lineup, away from Olympia and the centre of powers. Yet recently they had started to frequent these planes too, perhaps because of over-population and ongoing wars in their own worlds, and their presence on Earth had among other things given the raw materials for the urban legends of the Slenderman. The Merouchian warlocks were like rats, they preferred the shades and the covered p
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Chemical Alice
Baghdad was a scrub of a town, an electric grid in the middle of the barren desert, guarded by the burned-out husks of ancient dwellings. One could walk through the inhabited town in ten minutes and then end up in the extended graveyard that was the old city, and Alice was getting the 8-euro tour following Alonzo Sarvona around. One could also get anything one wanted in Baghdad whether legal or illegal. There were no gendarmes to be seen in Baghdad, as a matter of fact, Alice wasn't sure if there had ever been. But now that the gendarmes and the jihadists were at war, there wasn't a gendarme within five hundred miles of this place. So without bothering to look over her shoulder, Alice followed Alonzo down the broad and garbage littered street towards The Reactor, holes in the ground after exploding grenades forcing them to zig-zag ahead. The Reactor was a dump from the outside, crackling gray wall plaster, bars on the windows, and weak, jittery neon covering the upper half of the walls
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The Palladium of Troy 16. Hedonistica
Penelope felt tense and apprehensive where she sat in the back seat next to Daraxan as the taxi brought them through the nocturnal Athens, towards the infamous night club Hedonistica. A school of butterflies had taken flight in her stomach. In an effort to calm her nerves, she inhaled with closed eyes, reminding herself that she was the one who had wanted to go with Daraxan. Who had insisted when he had tried to warn her off. She still did want to come, but the prospect of facing yet another place filled with creepy Sapients made her nervous beyond reason. Especially after what Eugenia had told about the club earlier. Eugenia didn't like the place, she thought it's regulars creepy, and she was a goddess, damn it! In any case, Daraxan looked if possible hotter than usual tonight, black slacks took the place of his customary jeans and he had an equally black suit on top of that glittering Kernaoud outfit. His hair was casually tousled and jelled that way, thus it looked like he'd just ho
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By the edge of the dry and barren Nevada desert, past the rush of the Salt River and the burning wastes of Tonopah, an old woman sat beside her screen in an empty house, waiting for news. She didn't study her reflection in the silent, black glass the way she might have done decades ago. She had known her share of vanity, but now she felt all her years and battles in her back and hips and spotted blue-veined hands. She had no need to see them in her face. Light slanted through the windows, hot and honey-gold, undimmed by the storm that had passed less than an hour ago. If she looked east she might still see the clay-purple stain of its departure across the desert, but that view was of no more interest to her than her own reflection. Just as she'd seen enough of herself had she seen the devastation of a twister before. She shook her head, was weary enough without regrets. With nearly eighty years behind her, she had seen what the storms wrought, the things that other members of the
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The Palladium of Troy 15. Little Black Dress
"I could get used to this," Daraxan smirked to himself as he stretched languidly on the queen-sized bed, being careful not to disrupt the sleeping Penelope as he did. She was curled against his side, her back spooned against his chest and her head pillowed on his arm. Though she was wearing a cotton pajama and he had only removed his pants, it was strangely intimate, sharing a bed with her. Daraxan had hardly ever spent the night with any woman before, seldom stayed long enough to get their names right for half of the time. But Penelope was different. She had finally begun giving him bits and pieces of herself, telling her story, what had happened after that awful night in Stockholm and about her first years in Greece, how awfully weird it had been to move to a new country, to learn a different language and encountering an entirely different culture. Sweden and Greece were poles apart in so many ways, so it must've felt like being relocated to another planet although it was just half a
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The Palladium Of Troy 14. Translation
Maybe it wasn't so clever to bring Penelope along on this particular errant, Daraxan thought. Earlier, his main concern had been keeping track on the young woman, making sure that she stayed close to himself. He feared that losing her, and her unexpected and amazing skills, would be a devastating setback to his chance at getting hold of the Palladium of Troy. This breakthrough, this human, he feared, was something he would not find again. This was what the humans called a lifetime chance, even though his life span hardly made that allegory worth anything. He just couldn't lose Penelope. Therefore, he had transitorily overlooked the somewhat inconvenient fact that the minor goddess Agnes had once been his part time lover and that she doubtlessly anticipated for them to pick up where they'd left off, even though that was almost a century ago, back in the roaring twenties. The era of Charleston and Jazz. Now he not only had to deal with Agnes' innuendos but also with Penelope glaring dagg
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The Palladium Of Troy 13. Agnes
Daraxan snuck a look at Penelope from his seat behind the wheel of the Tesla. It was about an hour of daylight left now and they had spent nearly thirty minutes navigating the Athenian traffic and the landscape of steel and glass had morphed into quiet suburb roads, low houses and olive trees. And almost the entire time had she been eerily quiet. That woman ran hot and cold like the volcanic wells of Nomaua, it was almost as alluring as it was frustrating.
"A euro for your thoughts?" he asked as he stopped for a red light.
"They're worth more than that," she replied and continued to stare out the car window. He drummed his hand against the wheel as he mused over her response. "All right," she finally said. "That being in my flat, what was it?"
"I'm not sure," he admitted. "It wasn't human, so much can I tell, but I'm going to need Corian's help with the details, he has the ability to analyze DNA-strands."
"Aliens have DNA?"
"All species have DNA," he replied matter of factly. "From bac
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The Palladium of Troy 12. Housebreak
Penelope sneaked out of bed sometime about ten in the morning. When she opened the door, Daraxan's apartment rested in silence, perhaps her host was still asleep. She glanced over to the door to his room, it was still shut at least. He really wasn't that bad when you got to know him, she thought. Sarcastic and witty, he could make her laugh even when she didn't want to. And he was thoughtful too, caring almost, something he had shown yesterday. If it was possible, she was at ease with him now, almost friendly. He hadn't exactly had her at 'Hello', but she was definitely warming to him, she realized. She felt her lips pull as she regarded the door, then she became aware of a certain urgent need and dashed into the bathroom. By the time she'd showered, dressed and exited the bathroom, he was definitely awake though, she found him in the hallway just outside.
"Good morning," he greeted her and ran his hands through sleep-rumpled curls. The sight evoked images of him lazing around in bed a
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The Palladium of Troy 11. The first alien
"I was ten years old when I first saw an alien," Penelope began and pulled the legs up under her in the sofa. "I'd no idea what kind of being it was, though, so I labelled it a daemon, because it looked like one. However today I'm not so sure."
"Tell me about the being, what did it look like?" Daraxan asked where he sat next to her in the same furniture, facing her.
"I'm not sure but for a terrified ten-year-old it was huge. Today I'd guess seven feet or something. It had black skin, not like Africans, but really black, like tar and as shiny. Reddish horns, not like Xenidor's but standing right up. Eyes that reflected lights like cats and dogs."
"Cacodemon," Daraxan confirmed.
"You're familiar with those?"
"Quite well, they're beasts in its true sense, we've been having quite a lot of problems with them to say the least," he shifted in the sofa. "Go on, Penelope!"
"We lived in Stockholm, Sweden at that time. Me, my parents and my older sister. My father was a supporting singer at the R
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Mature content
Loving Superman :iconolycksalig:olycksalig 3 2
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The last day of Cleopatra :iconolycksalig:olycksalig 1 0
The Palladium of Troy 10. The drugged satyr
Penelope turned and started back down the alley, taking a hard left and raced toward the main street. Behind her, she heard the unmistakable sound of fists hitting flesh. Someone let out a grunt and she stopped abruptly, listening, trying to control her breathing. Four to one, no, those weren't what you'd call good odds, especially when each of those creatures was almost twice Daraxan's size. Could she really leave him there to hold his own? Then again, she wasn't stupid. Even trained, she knew that she'd be no match for the strength of a minotaur. On the other hand she did have speed and agility on her side. Realizing she was obviously about to do something really really dumb, but without actually caring, she stopped in her tracks and turned toward the sounds of battle again while reaching in her boots for her trusty daggers. Holding their heavy and comforting weight, she raced back and rounded the corner once more, then came to a standstill to take in the scene. One of the minotaurs
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The Palladium of Troy 9. Cloud Cuckoo Land
By the time Penelope and Daraxan crossed a minor street and strolled up to a nondescript building who'd once seen better days, her nerves had strung themselves so hard that she feared they were going to snap and it manifested as an unsettled stomach. Was she completely crazy? She'd spent the last fourteen years of her life avoiding the freaks she knew were out there, those which most people didn't even think existed, only to be proven right in the most brutal way upon running right into a flesh and blood Greek god. And now she was following this Greek god into a bar full of all kinds of other creatures she hadn't known existed, other than in myths and fairytales. Nymphs and satyrs. Sirens, centaurs and harpies and who knows what other kind of sundry mythological beings there might be in that place. Daemons probably, werewolves and vampires perhaps. Daraxan must have sensed her unease, since he paused and slung an arm around her shoulders. "It'll be okay. Promise," he comforted her.
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The Palladium of Troy 8. Dinner
Anassiou would never get over how peaceful it seemed out here. He stood on the balcony of the mansion, leaning over the marble bannister and looking at the crabby, gray Aegean while he rolled the glass tumbler between his palms. The soft whistle of the blowing breeze muted the distant sounds of crashing breakers and the sun was working on breaking through the thick, overcast sky, shining like a silver coin up there, more like the moon than its usual self. This place was paradise compared to Olympos, the city which sprawled a whole continent on Olympia and housed almost a billion inhibitors. The city with mile high scrapers and which dug down in the ground almost as far beneath. The city that never for even a minute stopped. The city which was his home, and which he during some weak moments might miss, only for the next instance promising himself to never go back to. He could imagine staying here when this was over, taking a guise as a regular mortal and creating a whole life here. At l
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Stockholm shoreline by parallel-pam Stockholm shoreline :iconparallel-pam:parallel-pam 27 6 Out there and back by bluebabylove Out there and back :iconbluebabylove:bluebabylove 8 0 konserthuset by cristineny konserthuset :iconcristineny:cristineny 14 0 In the corner of a dream by Hera-of-Stockholm In the corner of a dream :iconhera-of-stockholm:Hera-of-Stockholm 56 37 Standoff by Hera-of-Stockholm Standoff :iconhera-of-stockholm:Hera-of-Stockholm 68 40 After The Planes Have Gone by Hera-of-Stockholm After The Planes Have Gone :iconhera-of-stockholm:Hera-of-Stockholm 77 40 Stockholm will never be defeated by terror by Luddox Stockholm will never be defeated by terror :iconluddox:Luddox 19 16 Venintina by Luddox Venintina :iconluddox:Luddox 15 6 Big Sun City by Grivetart Big Sun City :icongrivetart:Grivetart 5,972 288 The Observatory by HjalmarWahlin The Observatory :iconhjalmarwahlin:HjalmarWahlin 8,861 505 The Observatory 3 by HjalmarWahlin The Observatory 3 :iconhjalmarwahlin:HjalmarWahlin 2,553 120 The Observatory 2 by HjalmarWahlin The Observatory 2 :iconhjalmarwahlin:HjalmarWahlin 4,827 199 Heaven at last by HjalmarWahlin Heaven at last :iconhjalmarwahlin:HjalmarWahlin 3,234 196 Enchanted forest by HjalmarWahlin Enchanted forest :iconhjalmarwahlin:HjalmarWahlin 437 38 Supergirl by HjalmarWahlin Supergirl :iconhjalmarwahlin:HjalmarWahlin 2,519 157 Today's walk 5 by wiwaldi24 Today's walk 5 :iconwiwaldi24:wiwaldi24 68 27




Captain Giolian Xenopour buttoned up his shirt and laced the nylon ties of his breeches while Anastasia lay curled up on the bed, watching him. Her elbow pressed into the mattress, head resting in her palm as she gave him a sultry and satisfied smile, partly hidden by a cascade of ruby hair with carroty highlights shining in the sun streaming through the semi-transparent curtains. Her twinkling jade eyes and sultry smile was telling him that she wanted more. However he had far more pressing matters to be concerned with than the beautiful, naked woman on the bed. While he had been training more Lavodan warriors, Giolian hadn't been to Eskiarthonas for more than three months. Time had run out and he had to gather warriors and return to the Northern front line before the break of the next morning.

"Sure you are not ready for another round?" Anastasia asked in a voice that came out in a purr as she pushed herself to a sitting position, lightly tracing one of her fingers down his scarred biceps as he yanked on one of his boots. "I want to take you again, warrior." Obviously, she'd decided to drive him out of his mind by bringing his cock back to full attention. The red curls between her thighs matched the shade of her long hair and her lush breasts with their large pink nipples were tempting enough that Giolian for a moment considered climbing back into bed with her, obey that little punk between his legs who wanted to be in command right now. But he had got his, it was time to show restraint as he didn't have time to indulge in bedding her again.
"I have business to attend to," he said gruffly, yet it didn't deter Anastasia. Her warm vanilla scent wrapped around him as she pushed his shoulder-length flaxen hair aside and pressed her lips to his neck while he pulled on his other boot.
"Your reputation as a lover was not exaggerated, captain," she said in a husky, sensual voice, low as a whisper. "Despite your show of roughness, you are one of the most incredibly passionate partners I've ever had. It's no wonder all the women claim they'd willingly spread their legs for you." She sighed. "Rough or not, any lady, from highborn to whore, would love to have you between her thighs. You are a mystery, a puzzle to be solved."

Giolian jerked on his black leather jacket, forcing Anastasia to back away from him. Before she could touch him again, he reached for his pants and stepped into them, zipping them up and buckling the belt. Then he stood and strode over to the chair, where he had flung his weapons belt before taking her to bed. Looking around he apprehended that the room was too frilly for his taste. Pastels with wildflowers and white furnishings, lace curtains and cut flowers in wases, a woman's room. Vanilla-scented candles flickered on every surface, and the fragrance mingled with the aroma of their sex. As he fastened his weapons belt around his waist he didn't bother with looking at Anastasia. They had gone three rounds and yet she was begging for more. The thought should have given him some measure of satisfaction, but he felt nothing more than the easing of his needs and the desire to go back to the training yards.
"I wonder what kind of woman it would take to tame you?" Anastasia said casually. The comment caught him off guard and he craned his neck and cut his gaze to her. Her lips were pursed and she looked as if she truly was interested in her own question.
"No woman will tame me," Giolian growled, as much to himself as to her as he controlled that the guns were comfortably holstered before he zipped up his jacket.
"Trust me," she said with a quick grin. "One day you'll meet that woman who'll have you on your knees."

Giolian gave a slight nod and a wish of a good evening, polite, nothing more, before he turned away. His boots thumped on the wooden flooring as he headed out of the bedroom and closed the door behind him. Women!

He had to return shortly to Eskiarthonas with the younger Monsoon warriors he had been training in the skills needed to defeat the damn Sarentists. Unfortunately, none of them could be fighting the Sarentists until they'd found them. The Porsodavian mountains was a wide spread and rugged wasteland of steep hillsides and deep ravines, of avalanches and glaciers and deep caves and the guerillas could be hiding anywhere, most of them native to these mountains and safe on the feet where he and his soldiers would well stumble and fall. Still Giolian would be damned if he didn't find a way to determine what the enemy's weaknesses were.

Fifteen minutes later, Giolian had identified himself with the guard by the gates and was heading toward the training yards. Dust swirled around his boots on the dry path and sunshine warmed his bare arms. The sounds of martial arts cries were becoming louder as he approached the three-story wooden dojo and passed a dozen of jogging men and women, their tank-tops dark with sweat and their shiny faces marked by the pressure put upon them. The man running up front, a balding, middle-aged colonel was shouting a rhyme about Sarentists men only having one testicle each and the soldiers behind him were echoing his call. Those rhymes used to be old already back when Giolian was a new recruit, but that didn't seem to bother the hefty man who was leading the younger soldiers.

As Giolian reached the dojo, he noticed with satisfaction that his new warriors looked fit and ready for battle. He would only be taking ten more with him to fight the Sarentists, but this contingent would have to be enough. They'd join the other warriors currently stationed in Morheda, just where the flatlands gave in to the mountains. The local Chieftains of Eskiarthona would allow no more to pass through their territory. Or what they regarded as their territory at least, one day Giolian hoped to be able to teach them a lesson and make them bow down to the King as well. But right now they could not afford that, they had to concentrate upon the rebels in the mountains. Going after the Chieftains would mean spreading themselves too thin and that would be dangerous in a situation like this. Prejudices between the Eskiarthonan steppe clans and the southern Lavodan ran deep, and it was a wonder that any form of agreement had been reached for travel through those lands. The rivalry extended back over millennia, stemming from arguments on whether travel or contact with the North should be considered a free commodity, or if the southern Lavodans should have the access rights without paying their way towards the mountains. The Lavodan had beaten the Eskiarthonas on the battlefield more than once, made more than one chief compulsorily bow down to the Banner of the Royal House, sometimes even to Kings and Queens in person, kissing their rings, even if the last such event laid generations back in time by now. But the Eskiarthonan clans should be beaten and made to bow down to the Banner once and for all, that was Giolian's firm belief, but he also knew that would be a later question. These days the Eskiarthonas worked as a buffer to the Sarentists, so they'd better stay where they were and be kept calm with some smaller boons form the Lavodans.  At the same time, those clans had always been more arrogant, less territorial, more for freedom and remaining uninvolved. They were also neutrally aligned, however, and on occasion would step in on the side of right and justice.

Giolian folded his arms across his chest as he watched two of his warriors spar with long bamboo poles. The pair battled at the center of a small circle of Lavodan enforcers who cheered them on. Berolita was lighter on her feet and quicker with her pole, but the young man Ezargos was gifted with a greater strength and endurance. Berolita and Ezargos clashed and for a moment they remained locked in a battle of power and will. Then Berolita whipped her pole around Ezargos' and shoved him away. In a beautiful display of strength and agility, she performed a quick backflip, landed in a crouch and swept her pole at Ezargos' knees. Ezargos however jumped to easily dodge her blow. He attacked from the left and lashed out with his own weapon, but Berolita rolled on the dusty ground, getting herself out of his reach, then sprang to her feet and swept out with her pole in a wide swing, hitting Ezargos on the thigh, the impact hard, if one should take the large smack and Ezargos' grunt as a measurement. Pride filled Giolian's chest at the sight of his warriors.

Berolita and Ezargos continued to spar, a perfect dance of power and grace. But not fierce enough to suit Giolian. He had to ensure that they'd be prepared to battle anything they faced. The loss of even a single life was one too many, and he would not see one of his brethren fall if he could help it in any way. He turned to the young man standing next to him with his own bamboo pole rested leisurely by his shoulder as he watched the combatting duo. His name was Mehail and not even 20 years of age, he was already a veteran, once wounded in the Kereselen part of the Porsodavian mountains, a few faint scars still visible on his chin and right cheek where the splinters of the bomb had hit him, more prominent scars hidden by his khaki coloured tunic. He had been lucky, three of the others with him had not returned that night.
"Mehail, your pole," Giolian asked him in a low voice.
"Yes sir," Mehail whispered back and handed over the long bamboo reed. Giolian accepted it with a clasp of one large right hand.

In a few rapid steps he was at the center of the mock battle. "You must be callous!" he growled as he blocked blows from both Berolita and Ezargos, who displayed surprise only for a brief second before opting to work as a team against him. "The Sarentists won't spar with you!" he snarled as he drove his pole at Berolita's midsection. She barely blocked it and the power of his stroke was so great she grunted with the effort. "In a close combat," Giolian continued as he spun in the air to parry with Ezargos, "these bastards will bring you down with one swipe of their dreaded iron clawed rakes. So you better strike first, and show them no mercy!" In two swift blows, Giolian had both Berolita and Ezargos dropping their poles, bringing them rattling down on the wooden floor of the dojo. "As you can expect none from them," he finished, barely breathing hard. The two warriors looked chagrined as Giolian stopped moving and lowered his pole, hitting it twice against the floor, to indicate that the fight was now over. Berolita's and Ezargos's hair were plastered to their foreheads, the sides of their faces glistened with sweat and they were breathing hard when they also stopped moving. They must've been sparring for quite some time even before Giolian arrived.
"Off to the showers now!" He slapped both Berolita and Ezargos on their backs. "Then come with me! It's dinner time. And tomorrow morning we will go to war."

The other recruits laughed and began joking and jeering with one another good-naturedly and the captain felt a strange warmth in his chest. The Lavodan army was his family, the only real family he had ever known. He respected these people, relied on them in battle and held the certain confidence that they would watch his back, as he would watch theirs. Outside of war and training, Giolian tended to keep to his own, but not when these recruits needed him to be the glue in their camaraderie and in battle. They were young and required the spirit of teamwork in every way, so twenty minutes later, when they all were showered and changed, he followed them to the cantina. As they crossed the sandplain, which was now turning pale orange in the discoloured light of the setting sun, Ezargos caught up with him. He had not only washed his hair but combed it out and fastened into a new warrior's knot on top of his head. He looked smart and strong.
"So it's time, Captain?" he asked the older warrior.
"Yes, tomorrow," he nodded his head. "The words have come in from the Office, we set out tomorrow one hour before down, to be in Morheda before the worst heat hit us. Although heat would be the least of our problems when we ascend into the mountains."
"It's be cold as hell, right."
"Worse than hell," Giolian replied.
"Those rebel bastards," Ezargos glanced over to Mehail who was walking on the other side of Giolian, talking to Berolita and another female recruit, called Samada. "I saw what that bomb did to Mehi, and I've seen worse things too." He lowered his voice. "May I admit something?" he then asked.
"Go ahead," Giolian said, already suspecting what the younger man carried within his heart.
"I'm shit scared," Ezargos said after a short while.

He was probably hoping for his captain to tell him to not be, to assure him that everything would be fine. But it was a lie, and they both knew it. And there was never any reason to lie about these things. People died in wars, that wasn't exactly a classified secret. And Giolian just looked him over from the corner of his eyes.
"You know what," he began. "Being scared is nothing strange. It's only natural. I'd be more worried if you'd said you weren't scared, because that'd be a sign of stupid recklessness. Recklessness that'd be dangerous both for the soldier himself and his comrades. So, Ezargos, use your fright as the edge you need to be vigilant out there. It'll sharpen your senses and make you more observant, more prepared to counter hazards and to work preemptive."
"Is that true?"
"Yes, with vigilant eyes, you might discover an ambush before the trap slams against you. And the next time people like Mehail might not lose his friends or two fingers on his left hand out there."

Ezargos thought those words over in silence as they entered the noisy canteen, where about a hundred of soldiers were dining on chicken, mashed potatoes, corn and tomatoes, crowding and boasting, talking loud, showing with their entire  body language how tough they were. And perhaps they were too. Here on the plains of Lavodan, a thousand kilometers from the mountains of the Sarentists. But that distance would soon close to nothing.  

Tomorrow they were going to war.

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As he deliberated his situation, Daraxan found himself astounded. He had never had to ask a woman for permission to bed her before. Usually, he had to fight them off instead, rather than to try and coax them to comply. But right now he was so hot and hard that if he didn't do something about it soon, he was pretty sure he was going to flip insane. There was something about this girl Penelope that reached his heart and stirred his emotions beyond reasoning, something telling him that if he didn't take his chance with her now, he would come to regret it forever. And forever was a mighty long time for an immortal. Therefore, he knew that he would have to come up with something, and fast, before it was too late. Too bad, he couldn't think of anything. His normally so sensitive and creative brain, which usually went so well with his libido, had suddenly decided to grind to a halt, like a computer showing the dreaded blue screen.

The taxi ride came to an end and they were out of the car as soon as Daraxan had run his credit card through the reader. Penelope didn't have to glance back as she walked through the building's front door, she could feel the body heat of Daraxan right behind her, and she was dying to feel more than that from him. With each rhythmic clunk of her boots on the steps, her heart pumped faster and louder. By the time she unlocked her front door and moved aside for him to pass, she was a bundle of raw nerves ready to explode at the slightest provocation.
"Penelope." Daraxan turned back to her with a frown on his face. "Is something's wrong?"
"Not exactly," holding back a laugh, she pushed the front door shut before she moved forward to place her fingers over his lips. Then she gave him a slight push and his back hit the wall.
"What are you doing?" he asked, his eyes widening. Running her hands up his chest, she only had one millisecond to enjoy the flabbergasted look of shock on his face before she rose to her tiptoes and covered his mouth with hers. Then he exploded with movement. A low groan rumbled in his chest and he closed his arms around her, pulling her in so tight that she could hardly breathe. He cupped her backside, lifting her up to mold his erection between her thighs. He was so hard and she felt so profoundly empty. She squirmed against him, trying to calm the unbearable ache between her thighs, but it wouldn't go away. There was only one thing that would alleviate the hunger she felt now. Or rather one man, the one standing right in front of her, pressed against her hallway wall.
Then Daraxan broke away, breathing hard. "Do you have any idea how much I want you, Penelope?" he murmured hoarsely into her ear. "How much I've wanted you from the very moment I first saw you?"
"I think I do, Daraxan," she whispered back. The sound of her voice was like a glass of brandy gulped on an empty stomach. "Because I want you just as much."
He groaned and lifted her up in his arms, carrying her toward the bedroom. His dark eyes glittered with passion. "Let's not wait any longer." She looked up at him with an expression he never thought to see from her, there was desire and longing. She wanted him, right now nothing else mattered.

Setting Penelope on her bed, Daraxan covered her body with his, still kissing her. He could have willed their clothes off with one divine wish, but he wanted to do right by this girl. No god things, not just a quick screw to alleviate his most primal needs. He wanted this to be a night she remembered. While he kissed her senseless, he slid his hands slowly to her back, being sure to hit all the points he knew were most sensitive on a woman. As his lips and hands worked their magic, the strangest languid heat began spreading through her body. It started somewhere below her navel and reached out to cover every part of her and she arched helplessly into him, her hands clutching at his shoulders.
"That's right my love," he murmured, unhooking the clasp of her dress as he licked his way down her throat, to the top of her breast, where he paused, while knowing that she was dying for him to keep going. Carefully, he slipped her dress off her shoulders, leaving her upper body in nothing more than her lacy, black, strapless bra. Hungrily, he drank in the sight of her bared body. She was glorious! Absolutely exquisite, her skin a pale cream all over. Her ample chest narrowed into a slim waist and curvaceous hips. Her legs were long and supple, perfect for wrapping around his waist, and where they met, tiny, black pants covered her secrets. Daraxan shuddered, as his need was increasing to impossible heights. Jerkily, he ripped off his torn jacket. Then Kernaoud tunic and pants followed before he fell forwards, upon her, attacking her lips. Nearly animalistic in his desire, he ravaged her mouth, tongue plundering and taking even if she wasn't offering. He grasped the hem of her dress, sliding it downward, to liberate the rest of her. She placed her hand on his. "Wait."
He frowned. "Wait?"
"What about... protection?"
"Protection?" He should have known she'd worry about that. "We can use it, but just so you know, theoi don't carry any diseases and regardless of what the myths say, demigods are extremely rare. Statistically speaking, you're more likely to win the lottery ten times in a row than getting pregnant from me."
"Really?" When he nodded she looked down before shyly lifting her eyes. "In that case, let's forget about it! I'd like to feel you skin-to-skin, Daraxan."
Daraxan practically choked at Penelope's words. They evoked sensual images of the two of them which had him nearly crawling out of his flesh with desire. Not only that, they were evidence of how much her opinion of him had changed over the past few days. She trusted him!
"I want that, too, sweetheart," he mumbled huskily as he felt his growing cock almost trying to crack his pants. When she urged his hand upward, he helped her liberate herself from that little dress and it joined the rest of the discarded garments on the floor. His cock hardened even more and with a painful intensity. "You are so incredibly beautiful, dear heart!"
Hesitating for the briefest of moments, Penelope hooked her thumbs under her panties and slid them down. And for a moment Daraxan forgot to breathe. Sweet Olympos, but she was, if possibly, even more beautiful than in his dreams. That goldilocked, heavenly spot between her thighs called to him, making his cock pulse in anticipation. He pressed his lips to hers, teasing her with a flick of his tongue against the seam of her mouth and she sucked it inside. Letting out a loud groan, he wrapped his arms around her and maneuvered them to the edge of the bed.

Daraxan finally broke the kiss and leaned back. She was a picture of temptation, spread out on her bed. The plum blue sheets made her skin all the more pale, her blonde hair all the more vibrant. Her blue eyes were bright with passion, her lips swollen from his kisses. Her chest was heaving, full breasts so tantalizing that he almost whimpered. "You have a body made for pleasure, Penelope. One that should be worshipped. Are you sure you're not fallen from Aphrodite herself?"
"I'm not sure about pretty much now," she replied mutedly. "Besides wanting you like crazy, son of Zeus."
In response he trailed kisses down her throat and along the upper curve of her shoulder. Her breasts arched upward, enticing him to have a taste so he bent and took one of them into his mouth while he kneaded the other.
"Ah," she cried, "that's so..." As her voice trailed off he sucked harder, tugging on her nipple before switching to the other breast and lavishing the same attention on it. His hand crept down to her legs. If he had his way, she'd have them spread in the most wanton of ways before the night was through. Her body was indeed made to tease. He slid two fingers between the crease of her thighs, groaning at the moisture he felt there. She cried out again, her back arching to get closer.
"Ah, man, what are you doing to me?" she moaned as her muscles clenched around his fingers.
"I'm getting you ready for me," he said between kisses on her breasts. "I don't want to hurt you." To emphasize his point, he slipped another finger into her, making her head spin. When he used his thumb to expertly circle the part of her where all her lust was centered, she shattered.
"Daraxan," she gasped, even her voice was sexy.
"A few more of those and you'll be ready for me," he murmured, kissing her temple. In that instance, she didn't know if she could handle any more.
"And how exactly are you planning on..." She shouldn't have asked.

"I have to know what you taste like." Sliding off the bed, he dropped to his knees in front of her. Damned if she didn't look apprehensive.
"What are you doing?" Her lavender eyes widened, gleaning faintly in the overhead light.
"Just relax, sweetheart!" Her chest heaved. She was so enticing, the hardened tips of her nipples begged for his touch. His mouth. Soon enough, though, right now he had other things on his mind. He was going to please her the theoi way, something he had learned the mortal women were as unused to as seduced by. He had won many a night by that. Placing his hands on her knees and pushing her legs open, he bared her to his view.
"Just looking at you makes my mouth water." She was slick with moisture, the tiny pearl of her clit begging for his attention. So he gave it, with one prolonged and forceful lick. She had the sweetest taste, he imagined that he could feast on her for hours without tiring.
"Ah!" She tensed and jumped beneath him.
"Relax!" he chortled and gave her another stroke before running his tongue around her clit. Her legs shook and she dug her hands in his hair, tugging on it painfully. Truly she was wound up tight. Letting go of her knees long enough to unwind her hands from his hair, he gently pushed her back onto her elbows. She gave him a look that was half-perplexed, half-aroused.
"Lean back!" He turned his attention back to her body, spreading her knees further before closing his mouth around her and sucking in on her clit. She let out a cry, arching her lower body off the bed. "Sweeter than candy," he breathed. Then he proceeded to show her just how sweet she tasted, licking and sucking until her legs shook uncontrollably and she screamed out loud as she came. His cock gave a hard thump against his thigh, as if to ask 'what about me?' He ignored the pain.
She let out a loud gasp and tugged his head up from between her legs. "Daraxan! That was... incredible," she panted and the look on her face told him that she meant every word.
She was in heaven. She was in hell. This was torture of the most amazing kind. This must be what odes were written about, infinite movies attempted to depict, books desperate to describe, the perfect, exquisite sensation of lust and love all rolled into one. If she'd had any doubt about Daraxan's sexual prowess earlier, she didn't now. The man was a sex god. Even after giving her the most amazing orgasm ever, he still worked her with his mouth and tongue. His fingers rubbed along her seam, making her ache for more. She was beyond the point of ecstasy.

"Please," Penelope moaned as she arched her hips upward. Nerve endings she didn't even know exited flared to life, turning blistering and over-sensitive.
"What do you want?" Daraxan asked with an impish grin.
"I... "
"My fingers inside you?"
"Yes!" her voice came out as a whisper, as that was indeed what she wanted.
His smile was devilish as he lowered his voice to a hoarse whisper. "What about my tongue?"
Her eyes widened. "What?"
"Do you want my tongue inside you?" The look on Daraxan's face made it clear that there was no shame in wanting that. No, it was obvious that he wanted it too, and that was the biggest turn-on of them all.
"Yes," Penelope breathed out as her head fell back onto the bed. His laugh was soft and silky, eliciting an answering hum from between her thighs.
"I want that too, dear. More than you know. Let me show you!" His mouth closed around her clit, sucking hard. At the same time two fingers slid inside, pumping in and out of her with a rhythm that set her blood to boiling. He obviously knew what he was doing, because she felt an orgasm building already. She lifted back onto her elbows, her thighs tightening around his head when he replaced his hand with his tongue, sliding in and out in long, deep strokes of a kind that drove her insane. The moment his fingers joined the action, she was gone. Clutching his hair in her hands, she ground herself into him, shrieking when her release overtook her. She had never experiencing anything like this before, comparing to this ecstasy all her earlier experiences in the erotic area turned bland and washed out. So this was what it was like, to make love with a god! No wonders there were immortal stories written about it!

Now stars exploded in her vision, blinding her with bursts of color. She must have lost touch with reality for a moment because when she came to he was lying next to her, panting as if he'd just run a marathon. He rolled to face her and slid his fingers up and down her hip, gracing her with a slow, satisfied grin.
"You are breathtaking, Pen. Don't you ever forget that!" with that he pressed a firm kiss to her lips. He tasted of salt and her feminine essence and it was astonishingly arousing.
"That was... amazing," she confessed when he pulled away.
"Agreed," he grimaced and the reason for that became immediately clear. He was still hard as a rock between his thighs. How could she have forgotten that, even for a second? He'd spent all of his time pleasing her, without showing not the tiniest bit of concern for his own desire. A god had given her two mind-shattering orgasms, without taking anything for himself in return! This was unbelievable, it topped everything else she had experienced during these last few days. Now the least she could do, was paying him back in kind. Her heart thudded as she reached for his chest and ran her hands across it, feeling the fur of dark hairs beneath her palm and between her fingers. That was oddly erotic in itself. Then she guided him onto his back, and the sound he made was something halfway between a laugh and a growl. As she pulled his thigs apart, instinct took over. This was a dance as old as time, and he was so breathtaking, so hard.
"So big," she gasped. A ghost of a smile crossed his face, and he began a kind of reply. It turned into a groan as she brushed her fingers across the tip of his cock. It pulsed beneath her and suddenly it was imperative that she tasted him. Closing her fist around him, she made an experimental swipe of her tongue along the tip.
"Sweet destiny, Penelope!" He canted his hips. "You're going to kill me."
"Sorry," she said, though she grinned. She wasn't sorry in the least. Payback was a bitch, wasn't it? She traced her tongue from the base to the tip and from the sound of his growl, he liked that, too. Closing her mouth around him, she slid up and down, sparking a rhythm that seemed to drive him crazy. She couldn't resist teasing him, so she let go. "You like this?"
"You know I do," he chuckled, "so it's going to be torture?"
"Just returning some of what you gave me," she replied before taking him between her lips once more.
His lips twisted into a wry grin. "Catch on quick, do you?"

Penelope repeated her movement, licking and sucking his thick shaft until at last he grabbed her head and started pumping his hips. The answering pulse between her legs made her breath catch. Even though she'd already come twice, something had been missing. And that something was burning clear in her mind now. She needed him inside her. Pulling back, she looked at him from between hazy eyes, lids lowered, lashes shadowing her smoldering look. "I want you. Make love to me, Daraxan! Now!"
With a muffled curse, Daraxan flipped her onto her back quicker than she could blink. Placing his hands on either side of her face, he stared into her eyes as if he might catch a glimpse of her soul. The look on his face was dead serious and for one moment Penelope thought she saw a glimmer of uncertainty. "You realize this changes everything, don't you?" he asked.
"It already has." It was true, everything felt different now.
With a nod of acknowledgement, he positioned himself between her thighs. His cock nudged her entrance and she felt a split second of vertigo, of time slipping away under her, a brief second of panic. The man was more than 1000 years older than her and probably 1000 times more experienced too. What if he found her dull, ponderous? Then he thrust forward and the panic disappeared. He was incredibly large, stretching and straining her until he filled her completely. He pushed forward slowly and leisurely, keeping a brutally tight grip on his desire. The simple idea of this old god being attracted to her was thrilling enough, but to be fucking him right there in her own bedroom was incredible. She wrapped her legs around his waist, pressing her nails into his back to urge him forward as he pushed into her with a stroke that slid him all the way home. She let out a soft cry at the unfamiliar sensation of fullness.

One thrust of his hips and she lost all ability to think. She became one mass of sensation, rising up to meet every plunge, flexing her hips to take him in deeper. "More," she moaned, pulling at his hips to drive him faster. He slid almost all the way out, then back in, quickly building up to a fierce, powerful rhythm. "Please!"
"What? Tell me what you want!" he demanded.
What did she want? She couldn't even think. Finally her lips formed the word she was searching for. "You," she whispered.
"Yes, yes," she went on. "Harder!"
He growled something back in a language she didn't comprehend, as he pulled away long enough to swiftly turn her onto her hands and knees, then he drove into her from behind, fully seating himself in one quick stroke. Arching her back she cried out at the unexpected invasion. He didn't give her time to adjust, just pounded in and out with a speed that had her gasping for breath. "More?"
He'd be the death of her. "Yes!"
With a low rumble, he dropped a hand underneath her, lightly sliding his fingers over her clit and rubbing them against it. That became enough to send her over the edge and she came with an ear-splitting shriek, only dimly aware of his low, answering groans. She fell, face forward, onto the bed and he followed, pumping his release into her with a loud, hoarse cry.

Later, when she could finally think again, there was only one thing on her mind, what had just happened? She had expected good sex, perhaps great sex.
But this?
This had surpassed her expectations. In fact, it had been something else entirely. He'd brought her way beyond ecstasy.
Daraxan forced himself to continue swaying back and forth in tune with the down-beat music with Penelope in his arms, as if he was just another clubber dancing with his date, while keeping his gaze on the tall and slim badass by the edge of the dancefloor. He let his eyes take in the Sapient's slightly glittering gray skin and bald, elongated and somewhat pointy head, slanted dark eyes sans irises, and smaller secondary and tertiary eyes above them, organs for ultra- and infralights. A Merouchian warlock, it wasn't often you saw them on Earth, they tended to keep to the worlds further down on the dimensional lineup, away from Olympia and the centre of powers. Yet recently they had started to frequent these planes too, perhaps because of over-population and ongoing wars in their own worlds, and their presence on Earth had among other things given the raw materials for the urban legends of the Slenderman. The Merouchian warlocks were like rats, they preferred the shades and the covered places, did seldom venture out in the open. Kept off the radar. But not this one, he was actually right here in Athens, Earth, at the night club Hedonistica, brazenly scanning his surroundings, as if he too was looking for something. What he was up to right now was unclear, save for it being no good. It was never good with his ilk. Daraxan would have to find out what it was about this time, and then he would have to figure out if he could take care of this fellow on his own, or if he should call for reinforcement.
"Keep dancing. I don't want to call any attention to myself," he whispered in Penelope's ear, once again regretting that he had let her come along. With the warlock here this could actually develop into something dangerous. For both of them.
So now what? He wanted to get the creep. The scumbag was wanted for murder in three words and with his arms scheme he was now threatening this place too, the planet which Daraxan and his brothers had sworn to safeguard. Could he send Penelope away, ask her to go to the coffee shop down the main street and wait for him there? Yes, he figured, that would probably be for the best.
"Aren't you going to bust him?" Penelope's voice cut into his ponderings right there and then, as if she had actually been reading his mind. Sometimes he couldn't help wonder, and now was one of these times. But he forced those thoughts to the back of his mind to ponder over later.
"Apprehending him could be dangerous and I don't want to leave you here alone."
She stepped out of his arms. "I'm pretty sure I can keep up. Now go get his ass, Daraxan!"
He should have known she'd react that way.
At that moment, the warlock looked up and his oil-black primary eyes widened in recognition. He immediately turned and dashed for the door.
"Son of a bitch!" Daraxan exclaimed as he tightened his hold on Penelope and raced after the alien creature, shoving people left and right to clear the path, not bothering with the angry calls and insults that were thrown after him.
"What's happening?" she shouted over the din of the crowd.
"He spotted me. He's running."

If only Penelope wasn't here, he'd warp right in front of the Merouchian. But he didn't dare to do that now, no way was he leaving the young human behind in this crowd to fend for herself, not even for a few minutes. Instead he pulled her along, zig-zagging between tables, chairs and people. Soon they reached the carpeted staircase and had just started down it when Achilleas called out from behind. "Daraxan, if you're looking for the guy who raced out of here, he went upstairs. Toward the roof." The usher pointed upwards as if to clarify his words.
"Thanks!" Daraxan immediately switched direction and headed up the two stairs, freeing Penelope's hand only when they'd reached the roof. She was breathing hard now, leaning over and clutching her legs.
"Shit, Daraxan," she forced out between breaths. "You didn't..."
"There!" The warlock was hurtling toward the edge of the building, across a large helipad, clearly planning to leap the five-foot distance separating this roof from the next. "Stay here!" Daraxan ordered. He shifted his focus and in the span of one instant he warped directly in front of his prey.
"Soulmother!" the warlock yelled in that guttural language of his.
Daraxan braced his weight as the warlock, unable to stop his momentum, barreled into him at full tilt. The Theos went down hard together with the Merouchian, but he quickly rolled over, gaining the top position. He swung his fist at the warlock, catching him square on the cheek. The warlock's head snapped to the side. He spat out blood with a harsh, grating groin. "You'll pay for that."
He held up one of his hands and with an audible pop, retractable claws broke the flesh on his knuckles. The ivory-colored bone claws of the Merouchians was probably what had inspired the creators of the comic-book hero Wolverine, Daraxan thought with a part of his mind. Not only were they sharp as hell, but they were also a little frightening. He'd die before admitting it, though.
"Ah - I'm so scare..." The claws sliced into him before he could finish his taunt. They ripped through the black fabric his jacket, and would've wounded him severely, hadn't it been for the Kernaoud material of the tunic he wore. Seeing that his claws had no effect, the warlock pushed the Theos backwards off him instead.

Daraxan backpedaled when the Merouchian jumped to his feet. Reaching behind, Daraxan freed the dagger he kept strapped in a hidden sheath at his back. The rhythmic click of booted heels running along the rooftop preceded Penelope's arrival. But even the Merouchian warlock's narrow slit of a mouth dropped open in shock when she hopped into place next to Daraxan, a dagger in each hand.
"What in the universes do you think you're doing?" Daraxan exclaimed.
"Helping you," she responded without taking her eyes off the foe.
"I do this for a living, you know. I think I can handle one measly Merouchian on my own," Daraxan said.
"Yeah, he doesn't need any help from a little girl," the warlock sneered at her, now in Greek, which sounded even more terrible, as he lunged at Daraxan, slicing his claws in a long arc, this time managing to cut Daraxan's cheek. The Theos jumped back, then jabbed the dagger up and into the warlock's guts. With a muffled sound the warlock stopped cold, then he groaned in pain, his whole body twitching as something rammed into him from behind. The warlock lifted his head to shoot Daraxan a bewildered glance. As Daraxan shifted his attention he saw that Penelope had her dagger jammed into the warlock's back.
"Good thing Merouchians are hard to kill," Daraxan sighed. "Otherwise I'd be pretty chewed up by Corian tomorrow."
"What?" she gasped, eyes going wide. "You're actually taking this fellow alive?"
"Yeah, he knows way too much to just be sent down to the ferryman."
With a look of astonishment on her face she stepped back and when the warlock tried to stagger forward she twisted her dagger mercilessly in his back and pushed down hard, dropping him to the ground. While witnessing this valor Daraxan tried to figure out if he should laugh or rage. "You know, you'd make a damn good addition to our team," he finally offered.
Her eyes widened then a pleased smile crept to her face. "Really?"

The next moment he gazed down at the unconscious Merouchian. With a knife in his stomach and another buried in his back, the villain wasn't going anywhere anytime soon. But for good measure, Daraxan brought out his tazer and gave the warlock quite a few volts of electricity. Normally Daraxan would've escorted him to the Agency, the Earth headquarter of the Olympian law enforcement, but that wasn't going to happen with Penelope around. So Daraxan eased out his cell phone and dialed Anassiou. "It's I," he said as soon as there was a pic-up on the other end. "Am on the rooftop of the Hedonistica. I've got the Merouchian bastard."
"No shit!" his twin replied with a hint of interest. "I thought you were meeting with Mandrake tonight."
"Mandrake was a no show, but the mark appeared. Go figure."
"That's some good luck," Anassiou whistled.
"Tell me about it! Now I'm mostly worried about our informer, what could've happened to him."
"I'll have someone looking into it."
"Great! Then I need to have him brought in to the Agency. Can you do it?" Daraxan asked Anassiou.
"Be there in ten," came the Laconic affirmation.


Three floors below, in the closet-like security command center adjacent to the kitchen, twenty-year-old Oscar Zoro sat before a console of six color monitors on two levels. Each screen was divided into four quadrants showing four separate locations in the club, including the entrance seen from outside and inside, the kitchen, the restrooms, the bar, the DJ booth and a few other strategic places. He set down the empty plate that had held the best keftedes he'd ever tasted, the meatballs ground as fine as custard, the tomato sauce as thick and sweet as honey, licked his lips and took a swing of his coke before he grabbed hold of the tray filled with little squares of baklava, cheese cake, walnut cake and half a dozen other desserts he didn't recognize. He didn't need to recognize them, he knew they'd be delicious. This was the best job he had ever had, no matter that these people were – well strange was the understatement of the century, however they paid way better than any other employer in this business, and that counted for a lot in the crisis ridden Greece. And on top of that there were the free food helpings. The incredible food alone would have been enough to make him jump at the chance. The only problem, if you could call it that, was that it was so utterly boring to sit there for six hours or so and not doing much but stare and stare and stare at six television screens showing twenty-four different places in which not much happened save for freaks having fun. Oh, there were freaks making out too, but when the first kink had worn out some five weeks ago, he didn't bother much with that either. He moved the tray to his lap, leaned back and popped a square of baklava into his mouth, closing his eyes to savor the taste, super-sweet and sticky. Perfect. When he opened his eyes he thought he actually saw something move on one of the screens showing places where nothing should move. He quickly swallowed what was left of the baklava and rose halfway out of his chair, to better see what it was.

The roof-top. Nothing was supposed to happen there, save for when the big boss himself came in, landing in his copter, or even flying himself if he was in that mode. The big boss, who was no other than Dionysos himself, god of wine and ecstasy, who tended to stop by with irregular intervals, Oscar having seen him once, but not encountered him in person. In any case, there was a camera at the roof-top, and now it showed two guys and a girl. The girl was a mortal like himself, the other two were... Well one was a god, the other one, frankly Oscar had no idea what that creature was. But one thing was obvious, they all were engaged in a brawl, and the elongated things twinkling in the moonlight could only be knifes. Oscar hesitated. His instructions were to call Benjamin, the security chief, if something extraordinary was going on. And this was undeniably extraordinary. A fight on the roof would definitely attract attention from the mortal majority out there and the club's existence would be in peril. Not to mention his ass. And his job. He was all the way out of his chair now and excitedly punching the telephone button for security. "Benjamin?"
"It's I, Achilleas."
"Where's Benny?"
"He's not here at the moment. Had to take care of a sick oceanide. Seems she got too much..."
"Screw that, there's a brawl going on up on the roof."
"A brawl? What kind of brawl?"
"Involving a god and a mortal and, well some other kind of being. I don't know..."
"Let me handle it, Oscar," Achilleas said coolly. "Go back to stuffing yourself with goodies meanwhile!"
"How'd you know..."
"I started in security too, you know."


Penelope was circling the alien, staring down at him like he was some freak attraction in a sideshow circus. Which he might as well be to her, Daraxan was sure she had never seen its likeness. Since the Merouchians were so uncommon on Earth there weren't any mythology around them save for the recently developed Slenderman stories, so she probably didn't know what to make of it. It had probably been easier if the foe had been a more classic, frequent figure, like a minotaur or a vampire. Or for that matter a gray Kherza, the Merouchians' shorter cousins, which the Americans had a few bodies of, locked up in storage at the Roswell base, the famous Area 51. The Kherzas and their circular flying machines were another newer addition to the Earth surroundings, another race that was cornered in their part of the dimensional spectra and had started to migrate towards the centre, consequently giving birth to the gray alien legends on Earth. But the Kherzas weren't really evil, not like the Merouchians. They were more like offhand, and the humans they'd abducted and treated badly had never been harmed out of ill intent but by a careless curiosity. A non-understanding what they really did to another specie. They were like kids on an excursion, while their neighboring Merouchians did actually plan to cause harm. Daraxan gazed from Penelope and down to the Merouchian Warlock, then back to Penelope again, shaking his head. She had taken on to the villain with bravado, then again she probably did not know how dangerous a Merouchian Warlock was, how much harm it could have done to her. Because then she had probably been more cautious. Next thing, he felt his twin arrive and he took his eyes temporarily off Penelope and their captive to glance over his shoulder at Anassiou.

If she so lived to be a hundred years old, Penelope didn't think that she would ever forget the sight of Anassiou landing onto the roof of the club like a Superman dressed in black leather pants and a silk skirt so white that it looked almost luminescent in the moon light.
"Way to be inconspicuous!" Daraxan said.
"I kept to the shadows," his brother grinned. "Besides, you know how most people are. If anyone saw anything, they'd probably think it was just something they'd just smoked." He stepped over to where the unconscious Merouchian lay on the blacktop of the helipad, curled up in foetal position, its hood down to show its toppy head, covered in glossy yet grainy, gray skin which was gleaning a touch in the pale moon light. Giving the alien a quick glance, he then looked back and forth between Penelope and Daraxan and as he noted Daraxan's torn jacket, a grin tugged the corners of his mouth up. "Gave you some trouble, did he?"
"I could handle him fine," Daraxan groused. "Can you take him to the Agency? And also try to get in touch with Mandrake, make sure nothing has happened to him. I have an offplanet business to finish tomorrow, a new lead to the Palladium."
"I'll take care of the Merouchian, don't you worry about that, twin!" Anassiou put two fingers to his temple in a mock salute. "Go ahead and pursue Athena's magic item meanwhile."
"Thanks, bro!" Daraxan knelt and rolled the daemon onto his side, pulling the dagger out of his stomach. The alien twitched and let out a soft yell before going silent. Daraxan wiped the bloody knife on the warlock's clothes before re-sheathing it. Then he repeated the action with the dagger which Penelope had rammed into the warlock's back. Standing, he handed the weapon back to her. Then he watched as Anassiou lifted the body from the ground and hurled it over his right shoulder before taking off in the sky again. Hi shook his head, no less conspicuous this time. Then he strode toward Penelope and grabbed her hand. "Come on, let's get out of here!"
"But your cheek..."
"It's fine. Already healed up," he confirmed, running his hand over said body part for emphasis. "I want to get out of here before the patrons of this place start heading up to check things out. I've a feeling attendance will die down rapidly if the bad guys start figuring out they aren't safe from Olympos' reach here."


They passed Achilleas on the way down the stairs. The usher examined Daraxan with wrinkled brows. "Got him?"
"Yeah," Daraxan nodded, clapping him on the shoulder. "Thanks to you, chum!"
"You're lucky I was doing the rounds when he tried to escape. Then I just covered up for you guys, as one of the security guys saw the event on the TV. Next time try to keep it out of the club though, son of Zeus. We don't want to sketch our patrons out. Your brother won't appreciate it, you know. And nobody likes a maddened Dionysos."
"Nobody likes a maddened Daraxan either," the theos answered, then he shrugged it off. "Don't worry, Achilleas, I plan to come back for purely entertainment reasons the next time." With those words, he continued forward, down the stairs, keeping a tight grip on Penelope's hand. As they stepped outside, he turned to her. "So that was your first bust. What did you think?"
"It was fun," she grinned at him.
"I thought you'd say that," his lips twitched. "If it weren't so dangerous, I'd hire you on as my assistant." Penelope gave him a dirty look and he laughed. "That's right, I forgot. You'd probably want me to be the assistant, wouldn't you?"
"Very funny!" she tried to keep the mirth out of her voice.
"Seriously, Penelope," he continued in a soft tone as they rounded a corner, exited the small alley and stepped out in the main street. "You did good back there. Even if you do have a hard time listening to directions. But I've worked with trained theoi who freak out in a sharp situation like this. Especially against those kinds of beings. Those so extremely alien that they scare people with their mere appearance, because you don't know what to expect from them. But you didn't flip, you kept it cool, and that's admirable."
"Thanks!" she didn't bother to hide the smile that crept to her face. Praise felt nice, especially coming from him.
Daraxan's right hand reached out to take hers. "Now, let's find a taxi, shall we!"
"What, you don't want to fly with me in your arms?" Penelope purred, glaring at Daraxan even though there was a hint of a smile on her lips. Those full lips that drove him to distraction every time he looked at them. And which threatened his sanity when he kissed them.
"I'm not Superman, you know. And I don't think you would want to be carried like a Lois Laine."

She tittered and began to answer when Daraxan suddenly raised his right arm, and moments later a taxi pulled up next to them. He gave the driver her address and they climbed inside the back-seat. "I think I'd take you home first," he murmured and she nodded mutedly as the car turned around and began heading towards downtown Athens. Streetlight and neon streamed in through the car windows, lighting the golden strands in her hair. Her face was flushed and smiling, so lovely it hurt to look at. The dress she wore hugged everyone of her curves lovingly, her bare shoulders strangely intimate. Suddenly he was so hot that he groaned. Inching across the distance between them, he captured her lips with a wild exclamation and crushed her to him. When her hands wove into his hair, he nearly fell over in gratitude, nudging her lips apart so that he could explore her mouth with his tongue. The taste of her rocked him to his core and he suddenly realized that she was more than just a quick lay to him, He wanted her for reasons beyond that, and it scared him as much as it thrilled him.
"Daraxan," she suddenly hesitated.
"No," he gasped. "Don't tell me to stop now! I'm going to die if you do that."
She bit her lip. "The Taxi-driver is looking at us." The theos cast a glance to the front seat, sure there were two gray eyes in the rear-view mirror. "No, he's paying attention to the traffic," he lied. "Doing his thing. We can hardly be the first couple kissing in his car."
Baghdad was a scrub of a town, an electric grid in the middle of the barren desert, guarded by the burned-out husks of ancient dwellings. One could walk through the inhabited town in ten minutes and then end up in the extended graveyard that was the old city, and Alice was getting the 8-euro tour following Alonzo Sarvona around. One could also get anything one wanted in Baghdad whether legal or illegal. There were no gendarmes to be seen in Baghdad, as a matter of fact, Alice wasn't sure if there had ever been. But now that the gendarmes and the jihadists were at war, there wasn't a gendarme within five hundred miles of this place. So without bothering to look over her shoulder, Alice followed Alonzo down the broad and garbage littered street towards The Reactor, holes in the ground after exploding grenades forcing them to zig-zag ahead. The Reactor was a dump from the outside, crackling gray wall plaster, bars on the windows, and weak, jittery neon covering the upper half of the walls. The octagonal building had once been a mosque, but very little remained of its once sanctified details. The dome had caved in in places and was repaired with iron beams covered with welded composites, still keeping their default orange, although that colour was taking on a dirty look as well. The mending was making the doom looking like a large chunk had been ceremoniless cut off, and when it came to the minaret, only half of it was left, a chimney-like structure pointing sadly in the air. The usher was a woman with one leg and one eye replaced by cheap cyborg parts and her raven black hair dirty dreads hanging almost to her knees. She nodded as she recognized Alonzo, waving them him with a grunt. Alice then walked over to her, pulling a bill from the wad she carried in her bra, watching the woman greedily tucking it away before she waved Alice ahead.

She stopped in the entry hall long enough to remove her gas mask, and she felt both liberated and oddly naked when the piece came off for the first time in days and she was able to smell something else than the plastic and the filtered oxygen. And she noted that Alonzo a few steps away. As he removed his mask, of an older manufacturing, he was giving her appreciative looks. Damn, as if she was still beautiful! Harked her back to the old days and the people she hired her body off to, to acquire the things she'd need to survive. In return she eyed Alonzo over. He was an old guy, short but broad in the shoulders, with the tight look of a man who'd been lean and tough his whole life. His silvery hair was still thick though and short on his head.

Inside the Reactor, it was plush, red velvety material everywhere, brass on the bar. Although the waiters were all droids on wheels, skimming across the floor with terrible efficiency, the bartender was a Caucasian human in a black once piece, bright eyed and pasty faced, speaking Arab like he'd memorized it off cards, his hands wearing tattoos of the Aum symbol and a serpent swallowing its own head. She didn't recognize him, where was Irna? The Caucasian in turn didn't like the look of Alice but he removed his cigarette from his mouth long enough to saunter over and toss a napkin onto the bar. There was music in the air, a tinkling piano, and Alice could see Alonzo in the mirror across from her, which was good enough. She noted, that he had sat down at a table crowded by two tall, plump ladies who sweated freely in their standard-issue nylon robes, one African, the other a mongrel. Alonzo was clasping the hands of a tall, thin man with waxy skin and a snow white kandura; the owner of the joint. They were beaming at each other so forcefully as they were pumping hands, that Alice wondered whom hated the other one more. The Reactor was pretty full, lots of people out for drinks, mostly fat men in kanduras so decorative that they were almost gowns. There was a nice buzz of noise in the air.
The bartender stopped in front of Alice, his unkempt green hair hanging in his face. He picked tobacco off his lip and spat it onto the floor.
"Have euro?" he asked.
Alice smiled, tossing her credit dongle onto the bar. "Sick with it." One thing she still had was euro. Problem was, one needed a fucking wheelbarrow of it to buy anything these days. He looked down at the dongle for a second but didn't bother to pick it up and scan it. Finally he sighed, almost in disappointment.
"What you having?"

She liked his accent. It was hard to understand, but it sounded nice. He was Russian, of course. Russian of some sort, maybe he was Bulgarian or Turk, maybe he was a Cossack, it didn't matter to her. He was Russian for all practical purposes. Everyone worth something in Baghdad was a Russian these days, they owned the city, if you wanted to call it a city. And they did it mainly because no one else wanted this piece of shit out in the middle of nowhere. The Russians were keeping Baghdad going through sheer determination, though things had gotten easier recently since the gendarmes had moved into the Southwest, heading for Saudi. Alice hadn't seen one of them in months.
"Doesn't matter, I can't taste anything anymore anyway. Gin," she settled for. "Chilled."
He snorted, producing a cup and dropping it in front of her. It thudded hollowly "Gin? Vet', yes?"
She winked, pulling a ganja cigarette from her pocket. "Hell, right."
The bartender poured the drink, and Alice lit up, sending a cloud of bluish smoke into the air. Instantly, she felt her shoulders relax and the pain in her joints subside, this was good stuff, bought in Tel Aviv by a dude who knew better than to shit her. She grabbed the Styrofoam cup and swallowed the drink in one gulp, ticking her head down toward the cup before he could put the bottle away.
"You really can't taste anything, eh?" he said, squinting at her and pouring another.
"Or feel anything."

In the mirror, Alice eyed the tall, waxy man as he ambled away from Alonzo and she pulled the cigarette from her mouth. Subsequently, she pushed the red coal against the top of her right hand and held it there, watching the white smoke curling up. She counted to five while observing Alonzo in the mirror as he swept the room with his tiny, constantly squinting dark eyes. He was still looking for that girl obviously, the one who'd ran off with his euros. Shrugging it off she put the butt back in her mouth, waving her hand at the bartender to show off the blackened welt. "Not a thing!"
"That's impressive." The bartender nodded, leaving the bottle on the bar as a sign of good humor. "It really looks like your real hand, the same hue and texture as the rest of you, down to those blond strands of hair on top of it."
"Is my real hand. But not your real eyes, I take it."
"Correct." He frowned. "And you? Nerve Augment?"
She shook her head, picking up the cup and gazed down into the cloudy liquid, watching her own reflection for a while. "Something that happened to me in the service," she slowly said as one of these moments coming on her, a strange, slow feeling in the back of her brain, something which wasn't the hashish but an echo of a long-gone mind-altering experience acquired with other, more outlandish, more potent stuff than the good old ganja. Alice shook her head a little and let it slide past, it only got worse if she tried to force a memory. "I don't like to talk about it," she eventually added, toasted him and drank her shot off as he turned and ambled away. While setting her cup down, she felt the air around her getting crowded. In the mirror, Alonzo and his two sweaty women had suddenly gotten much nearer.
"Milady," Alonzo said, "I've been seeing visions of you all day." He spoke with the weird precision that foreigners brought to Arab, every word sounding like it was uttered backwards, newly minted, bitten off at the end and invented a few seconds ago. "Why is that?"
Without looking around, she shrugged. "I've been hired to kill you."

In the mirror, Alonzo shot his cuffs, and she caught a glimpse of a dark, blurry tattoo on his wrist, a cross encircled by a serpent, this one not swallowing its head though, but sticking out a split tongue at the onlookers. The Russians made most of their euro through drugs, heavy shit sold to the bottom rung of the plebs, mostly designer, unstable, and as likely to pop a vessel as get you high. The gendarmes had no patience for these kinds of narcotics, Admiral Corrolla, the Director and pretty much the king of the gendarmes, set the tone there, and they beat up on the Russians every chance they got, and in return the Russians were quick to put a bullet in the head of anyone who looked like a weak link to them. They had never made much of a dent in Riyadh, back when there had been a Riyadh. The Saudis had closed ranks against them, and these days the jihadists owned Riyadh the way the Russians owned Baghdad. There'd been a couple of attempts over the years, but it had ended in tears. But the Russians had survived. Everyone in that organization had done terrible things. Terrible Things was their initiation rite.
Alonzo cocked his head at Alice for a moment, then burst into laughter. His two women friends joined in after a second of hesitation. Their lord looked around as if he'd made a terribly funny joke, soaking up the room.
"Come have a drink with me, milady," he chuckled, turning away. "Talk to me."
The mongrel woman leaned down, but Alice forestalled that by standing up, blowing smoke around. "Touch me, Olga, and I'll break a finger."
She grunted, straightening up. "Name not Olga."
"Finger will still be broken," Alice leered, pushing through the women, nodding her head at the bartender, who was leaning against the wall, watching her pass by with slitted eyes and smoke curling up from his own cigarette. He flicked his hand from his waistband and her credit dongle leaped at her. With a used hand, she snatched it from the air. Her real hand, now these were weird things they'd done to her! She reached inside of her shirt and tucked her dongle away into her bra.
"Nice knowing you," he said to her back and she grinned wordlessly.

The place was air-conditioned aggressively, but Alice imagined that she could still sense the heat out in the desert. It had been 55 centigrades at noon, though it was expected to cool down to a manageable 40 by midnight. She hated Baghdad, it was like living in someone's armpit. She wasn't made for this town. Too hot, too empty, too old. The women escorted her the back, past packed tables, then they kept walking past all the heavy-looking red padded doors marked PRIVATE and finally took her through the swinging doors into the kitchen. The black, humming cooking unit took up an immense amount of space, swollen within the tiled room, just a cube of rough black metal with neat, tidy conveyor belts inching out of it. It was idle at the moment, as there was more activity at the bar than the menus, but she didn't like the way it hummed, an almost silent vibration that reached inside of her. She eyed Alonzo, tracing her gaze up and down his shiny outfit, deciding he wasn't carrying a barker. The Russians, the higher-ups at least, the real old-school ones, had a fetish for strangulation, a wire shining out in the darkness. Alice had heard that they regarded any murder that didn't require you to get right up close to the mark, like a knife or a piano string, as pussy work. Arab murder. Pussy or not, the two female mountains had two ordnances each, big ones, under their arms. They didn't look too fast though, and their robes were too tight for that kind of move, it would bunch up if they tried to pull both at once. And if they were going to pull them one at a time, they were idiots for carrying two anyway. Then again, these guns may just be for intimidating reasons.

Alonzo kept walking through the empty kitchen, out the back door and into a fenced-in lot that smelled like rot. The wet, heavy smell hit her in the face and settled down to soak into her clothes and skin and the acidic air stung her nose with its foul fumes. She kept smiling, though. All of them thought they knew exactly where this social call was ending, and all remaining was to see whom would get it right. The two bodyguards stopped and let Alonzo and Alice take a few steps more, so that she ended up between him and them. He stopped and turned around to smile back at her. She squinted around, the dark heat settling on her shoulders and pushing. It was bright, a big, nearly full moon shining down onto them. The fence looked high, a serious fence. Not impossible to scale, but not something she was going to leap over while people took shots at her. The sky was a dark blue canopy over them, empty and clear and just filled with evaporating heat.
"I take meetings here," Alonzo said, spreading his hands and grinning. His kandura shone expensively in the dim light leaking from the sky. "So, milady, you've been hired to kill me, right? Who hired you? And why?" He cocked his head. "I know your kind. Mecca, yes? Lots of you Mecca people out here these days. Rats fleeing the sinking ship."
"Mecca is gone," she said. "They're tearing it down and replacing it with a shopping mall."
"As if I should care."
"I don't expect you to."
"So how many have you killed, for euro?" Alonzo said it as if there were better things to kill for. Then he squinted one eye at her owlishly. "You were in Tunis recently, yes? The World Banker. I forget the name."
She shook her head. "Haven't been to Africa in years, Alonzo. You're thinking of some other desperate old bitch."

Alonzo glowered and folded his hands across his back. From below his collar a smudge of ink was visible, a star atop what she assumed was a crown, the symbol of high rank. Alice reached up and scratched her shoulder where her own military tattoo had used to burn. The army had been good for her. She didn't like to think about it too much, as it hadn't been a good time, however it had been a necessary time. It had boiled her down, and she had come out of it as a better person. And then she was not only thinking of the enhancements she'd volunteered for, the things they done to her body, using her as a guinea pig in their shiny laboratories. The things without which she'd be dead by now, several times around as a matter of fact. Alonzo saw her gaze at the tattoo and smiled. "You know what it means?" He suddenly jerked his sleeve up, revealing two and a half of the blurry skull tats on his arm. "And these?"
"Prison work," she said, keeping herself still, feeling the bodyguards' eyes upon her. "Where did you get the art?"
"You know what it means, milady?"
She simpered, figuring that would annoy him. "I know what it's supposed to mean, anyone can slap some ink on you."
"Where I come from, they kill you for false emblems like that," he complained. Maybe he wasn't so smart after all. "They buy you a drink somewhere and slit your throat, you fall back onto a plastic sheet. Five minutes later it is like you were never there."
"So? How many? Five? Ten? You think ten is a big number? If I had a skull for every person I'd killed, I'd be a fucking shadow. I'd be nothing but ink."
"Numbers do not matter. You Arabs always counting." He peered at her. "You sure you did not do the Tunis job? I heard your name, very clear."
"Then someone is shitting you," she shook her head slowly as with a disobedient child. The women behind her hadn't moved, not even to loosen up their gowns.

He nodded, crimping his lips as if to say, Yeah, okay, whatever. "You know my people?" he suddenly asked, voice soft and casual, like he was talking about the weather, which was pointless in a place where the weather never changed. "You know who I work for?"
"Sure," she nodded her head. "You're connected, Alonzo. What we call 'a high roller' where I come from. You run this pisshole of a town, for your boss. You dress in a fine kandura, live in an ancient hotel with some lush women of quite a different quality to those with you today. And you go from an air-conditioned room to an air-conditioned mini-hover, it's cute like a little toy, to an air-conditioned room every day and probably haven't sweated in ten years. And you were eying me up as we entered the bar, not because you liked my rugged beauty, I don't flatter herself with that notion anymore. But because you thought you recognized me by something more than my mere appearance."
He chuckled, nodding and stepping around her. "True," he said jovially. "True, true! And you were sent to kill me. It's pretty hilarious. Now, if you will excuse me, I'm going to have dinner. Lyssa and Fedra will finish our conversation."

Alonzo returned into the restaurant, the door shutting behind him as if on a motor of some sort. Alice looked at one of the big bitches and then at the other. The mongrel grinned. Alice though she was Lyssa but wasn't sure why. "You break my finger now?" the woman asked. Alice sighed, feeling tired.
"Sure, why not," she said. She could do the math; two of them against one of her, alone in a back lot, their friends inside and everywhere, damn it in the whole city. They hadn't frisked her or tried to take her own guns away, yet she chose not to be insulted by the notion. For a moment they all stood there, hands hanging free, each of them waiting to see whom to move first. First move was a losing move, it telegraphed your intentions and when you had more than one person to deal with, it guaranteed that at least one gun was going to find its way onto you and make some painful alterations. The air around them was completely still, like hot jelly, and Alice was reminded of the yard back in Tel Aviv, where she'd gotten a free but excellent education on how to fight when outnumbered. Rule number one was, sometimes making the first move made sense.

Alice launched herself at the one she figured was Lyssa, forcing the hard back of her left palm into the other woman's face while pulling her janbiya with her right. 'Lyssa' cursed in some language Alice didn't know, all consonants from what it sounded, waving her squared hands in front of her face as she staggered a few steps back. The moment Alice crashed into Lyssa, she brought up the curved dagger and stabbed twice into Lyssa's belly, falling down on top of her and then quickly rolling off to the side. She wasn't worried about the noise, people at the Reactor didn't care about brawls as long as it was kept outdoors. Too loud and someone might send the waiter out to tell the rascals to quiet down, but the women were far from that point yet. Alice came up into an unsteady crouch, clasping her gun and fired three times, quickly, where the other bodyguard had been a second before. She was still there, for a moment at least, and then she toppled over, hitting her knees and finally falling over face-first. Alice stayed low, listening to the sudden silence, feeling the heat on her, straining her senses. The air was getting heavy to breathe after the physical experience, and she searched her pockets for her gas mask, finding it and pulling it over her face, tugging the straps hard. Damn, but she didn't care to think about what she had just filled her lungs with those short minutes out in outdoors air. Rule number two was to never assume. It wasn't nice, but Alice turned and found Lyssa, put her gun against Lyssa's head, and made sure the woman was dead. After that she stepped over to her companion and did the same, warm blood spraying her lightly. If one was content with assuming people dead, they had a habit of coming up from behind at the worst of times. Alice had been assaulted by dead people so many times that she had not only lost count but eventually become paranoid about it.

After a final glance at the dead bodies, she turned and began heading back toward the door, describing a wide arc, approaching sideward and taking soft, easy steps, almost as if she was a ballet dancer on a stage. After five steps the door flew open and a big, thick-necked brute with a shotgun held across his body, a streak of absolute darkness against the white kandura, stepped halfway out into the yard. He peered out into the lot, muttering to himself however failing to see Alice coming at him. She just kept approaching, holding off; hesitating to shoot a dude in the back. She wasn't a big believer in justice, but everyone deserved to at least see it coming. When she was just a few feet away, he suddenly turned, hissing something she couldn't make out and swinging the shotgun around, slow and clumsy, making it obvious that he was either drugged or stoned. Alice squeezed the trigger and the big man whipped around, sending one blast from the shotgun into the night air before falling awkwardly against the door, propping it open with his bulky body. She leaped forward and stole the shotgun from his loose grip, then inspected the wet, ugly wound she'd created in his chest before looked into a pair of staring, dark eyes. With a quick glance into the bright, empty kitchen, she broke open the shotgun and let the shells drop out, then tossed it away to her right, the shadows swallowing it. After putting an insurance shell into the dude, she edged into the humming kitchen. The crank air pushed out of the vents above rushed past her as if someone had opened an air lock out in the desert. She stopped right inside, pulled the gas mask off her face and let it sit upon her head like an outlandish hat, then wasted a moment or two, cautiously listening and watching the swinging doors that led to the main dining room.

A brief moment later, the doors swung inward and admitted a pair of serving Droids, skimming along the floor bearing dirty dishes. When the swinging doors snapped closed, Alice caught a glimpse of the crowded dining room, all reds and browns, plush fabrics that looked heavy and old. She spotted Alonzo sitting back toward the front of the place, laughing and holding a drink up as if making a toast. As the doors swung shut again, gliding slowly on their tiny motors, she looked straight at him however he didn't look up at her. Then she lifted her gun and let the clip drop into the palm of her hand; it was difficult coming by hardware these days, most of it coming out of scavenge yards out east, Iran generally, where the gendarme's grip was getting a little sketchy under pressure from the local talibans. For six euro a week, kids sorted bullets into calibers and hand-filled clips, which were then sold to people like Alice for 100 euro a clip. She wasn't sure where the bullets came from though, loose and sometimes ancient as the very ground she threaded and sometimes she feared that her gun might blow up in her hand when she pulled the trigger. It kept things exciting. Exchanging the old clip for a fresh one, she snapped it into place as quietly as she could. She wasn't paid to scamper around waiting for the safe moment, she was paid for results and now, when Alonzo was aware of her, there was no better time than the present. Before he could call for his people and bring the hammer down, a wall of fat people in long robes, a team of idiots with garrotes in their pockets and her ugly mug on their little handhelds. Besides, her instructions had been pretty clear; Alonzo Sarvona had to die tonight. She had agreed to those terms, and terms had to be upheld. Inhaling deeply, she gently and with steady hands racked a shell into the chamber, deciding that the best way to do it would be to be fast, no wasted movements, no wasted time. Then she put the gun down low by her thigh, entered the dining room and quickly and steadily toward where Alonzo was sitting, her eyes on the man the whole time. Momentum was the key, no one paid her any attention as she crossed the large room.

As she was halfway to his table, Alonzo suddenly looked up and glanced at her, then looked away, his face a pleasant mask of polite enjoyment. The next moment, as his brain caught up, he snapped his gaze back to Alice, his expression tightening up and his hands jumping a bit on the table as if he'd thought about doing something and then killed the idea. It was too late by then, Alice was at his table.
"Lyssa and Fedra will have some explaining to do, right?" Alonzo said the moment she stopped.
Alice shook her head. "No. And neither will the kitchen help." She gave him another second, but he just sat there staring at her, his hands balled into fists. Macho asshole, no gun because he was tough. Macho got you killed! Alice raised the gun and there was no reaction at first. She had perhaps expected a hubbub from the crowd, some noise, chaos. But she had been away from this part of the world for so long that she might have forgotten the rules, how it worked. But she didn't care, as she raised the gun and put it a few inches from Alonzo's face, not close enough for him to grab it easily or knock it aside, but nothing happened. There were people just a few feet away, eating their dinners, but no one was even looking at them.

Alonzo stared at the barrel. "You know who I am, milady," he said slowly, licking his lips. "Maybe you wish to be rich?" His wary eyes jumped up to her face and then tightened up. "No, you obviously don't wish to be rich. Perhaps you don't wish to live, either. You are not a girl anymore. And you know who I work for. This will not be forgotten."
"I don't know what you did," Alice said, "but you pissed off the wrong people, and here I am." She squeezed the trigger, the gun made a thunderous crack and Alonzo's face imploded as he was knocked backward, spraying his surroundings with a fine mist of brains and blood.

Alice swirled around, watching how most of the patrons ducked down as she looked at them, crouching in their seats. There were some shouts and the sound of a woman sobbing, but no one was moving. She didn't bother with a second glance as she let her gun drop to her side again, then quickly headed toward the entrance. There would be no gendarmes, but you didn't kill a man with a crown on his chest in Baghdad and just walk away whistling. She crashed through the doors and into the hot, empty desert night, slipping her barker into my pocket. As she jogged down the street, she imagined Alonzo's blood baking onto her, turning into a shell. The street was nearly empty, and a chilled dessert night blew paper and old leaves across the hard top. Ahead of her, on the horizon loomed the dark, hulking shapes of ancient structures. Huge, partly depilating complexes, marking the outer edge of a rotting city slowly filling with sand and choking sunlight. A girl could get lost in the darkness there forever, if she wanted. In the heat, forever was a lot shorter than you might imagine.

Walking steadily toward the horizon, Alice wiped Alonzo's blood out of her eyes and heard him asking me how many she'd killed for money? The truth was she didn't know. She'd lost count. The only thing that mattered now was the phone she picked up, the code she typed in. Mission accomplished. Moment later she heard her dongle buzz. More euros available. And without looking she knew that it was enough euros for her to getting to Tel Aviv to get some more of those chemicals that kept her decaying body going for another year or so. Then she had to be out there for yet another contract kill, yet another sucker who thought he was protected by a tattoo on his chest. That was the price she paid for her semi-immortality, for the things the army had given her and taken from her as well. Turned her into Chemical Alice.
Penelope felt tense and apprehensive where she sat in the back seat next to Daraxan as the taxi brought them through the nocturnal Athens, towards the infamous night club Hedonistica. A school of butterflies had taken flight in her stomach. In an effort to calm her nerves, she inhaled with closed eyes, reminding herself that she was the one who had wanted to go with Daraxan. Who had insisted when he had tried to warn her off. She still did want to come, but the prospect of facing yet another place filled with creepy Sapients made her nervous beyond reason. Especially after what Eugenia had told about the club earlier. Eugenia didn't like the place, she thought it's regulars creepy, and she was a goddess, damn it! In any case, Daraxan looked if possible hotter than usual tonight, black slacks took the place of his customary jeans and he had an equally black suit on top of that glittering Kernaoud outfit. His hair was casually tousled and jelled that way, thus it looked like he'd just hopped out of bed and ran his fingers through it. Just the sight of him made her breath in. It was so unfair that he could make her feel this way without even trying.
"What can I expect at this club?" she finally managed to ask.
"It's an outworlder club, just like Cloud Cuckoo Land, but I guess most similarities ends right there," Daraxan began. "Hedonistica is quite a bit more hardcore. You'll see all kinds of Sapients there – just counting the specimens would take longer than this journey is going to last. Mostly shady types and misfits. And sometimes you'll come across the odd theoi too. The kinds of theoi who don't like it on Olympos for one reason or another and have relocated to Earth."
"What about humans? Will there be any there?"
"The only humans you're likely to see will be accompanying non-human Sapients, humans who are attracted to the extraterrestrial world," he explained. "Daring, not just a little bit crazy in most cases. Don't try to engage in conversations with those people, it's seldom any good idea."
"No, really?"
"Yes, really! Besides, you better stick by my side the entire time, follow my lead and do what I tell you."
She let out a snort. "You'd love that, wouldn't you?"
"Penelope," he said with a note of warning in his voice, "you promised."
That was right, she had. "Fine."
He grinned. "That's a good girl."
"Screw you!"
"Love to," came the rapid reply. Okay, so she wasn't getting anywhere with this verbal exchange, instead she turned to stare outside the window, gazing at what little nightlife Athens could offer, with mostly young people with no money out and about. After a few minutes Daraxan reached out and grasped her hand. "It'll be fine, Penelope. I Promise." His warm, husky voice melted her worries away.
"I hope," she whispered softly, stifling a shudder when his thumb started a lazy caress along the back of her hand. The man was like a furnace, the kind who could make any woman want to burn.

Their ride pulled up to a relatively quiet street just north of Piraeus and after Daraxan had taken care of the payment, they stepped outside. Penelope gazed around the two and three-story houses, noted that they were pretty run-down and that the parked cars in the street had also seen way better days. The surroundings were pretty dead this time of night, a chilly wind wafted paper and old leaves across the street and from an open window came the sounds of a television. This sleepy area seemed the perfect place to hide a club catering for Sapients, she thought as she followed Daraxan through a vaulted entrance into a small alley between two houses, down half the block and stopping by an insignificant red door.
"Are you serious? The club is down here?"
"You'll see!"
A tall, heavily muscled man in a black suit stood on the pavement next to where Daraxan had stopped, his chiseled face looking stoically upon them, but with an enquiringly raised brow. Then came an exchange of words in a foreign language before the bulky man stepped to the side as he spoke something in a jawbone microphone. The door swung open to reveal another man, almost a clone of the usher in terms of size and manner of dress, with sharp blue eyes and short sandy brown hair. He must have recognized Daraxan, because he inclined his head and moved aside to allow them entrance.
"What's up, Achilleas?" Daraxan asked, not bothering to wait for a reply as they walked by. Achilleas in turn made a glance across Penelope's appearance and murmured something which sounded as a compliment. For some reason that made her blush slightly.
Directly ahead of them was a small reception area. A short oily fellow with spiky, orange hair and neon-pink tie sat behind the tall, enclosed desk. "Lord Daraxan, a pleasure to have you with us, as always," he said in a high-pitched voice.
Daraxan nodded his head in acknowledgment. "Good evening, Vir."
Vir turned towards Penelope, his eyes lingered on her cleavage, a dirty feeling of his lecherous gaze. "That's an enchanting guest you have."
Daraxan didn't respond as he steered her toward a broad flight of led-inlaid stairs that led up to the second floor. The walls of the staircase were painted night black and imbued with leds and small, glittering stones forming shapes like skyscrapers with pointy spires. As they reached the top of the stairs Penelope stopped dead and gasped at what she saw. Rounded booths were scattered throughout the room, the shiny black tabletops accented by the silver covering the seats, small leds mounted everywhere, shining off specks of cyan and white light. On one side of the room, a large bar lined the wall, the backdrop a mixture of black wall and metal scrolling. To Penelope's eyes the place came off as a cross between a brothel, a starship and a closed-down industry. It wasn't by any mean 'hip', or rather not what you would deem as 'hip' by any Earth standards. But those people here did probably have other kinds of standards to go by. Because as interesting as the decor was, it held nothing against the clientele. The club was jam-packed with them, all of them obviously other Sapients than the humans of Earth. The booths nearest Daraxan and her housed a small group of satyrs, deep in heated conversation. And in the booth next to them she saw mermaids. Real mermaids with actual tail fins, almost glimmering in the dim light. And she noted that there were male mermaids too, mermen, that should be, and then she wondered how they got around. Wheelchairs? She'd have to ask Daraxan later, she figured. More creatures were scattered throughout the space, some with horns protruding from tough grayish hide or large talons curling out of monstrous hands. Others were beautiful in a lethal, gothic way. Penelope did some scanning, but didn't see anyone resembling those two daemons from so long ago, those beasts whose faces were forever burned into her memory.

"This place is insane!" she heard herself exclaim. Daraxan smirked without bothering to reply and she shifted her focus back to the interior of the club and glanced over the dance-floor, where people moved to fast-beating techno-like music and in a constant inferno of smoke and lasers. "Where exactly are you meeting this contact of yours?"
Daraxan scanned the crowd. "Mandrake could be anywhere in the club. Might not even be here yet. He's not the most predictable fellow when it comes to being on time."
"Great." Her stomach felt like a lead weight. This place gave her the creeps and now she regretted that she had volunteered, no make that forced herself, to tag along. She had wanted to show that she was tough and brave, however she felt anything like that now, just like a lost kid. Not very dissimilar to how she had felt in Stockholm that horrible night when she'd lost everything that mattered to her. Coming along here? How could she have been that stupid?
As if distinguishing her extreme discomfort, Daraxan pulled her closer to his body. "Relax, Pen! You're safe with me."
Funny enough, she didn't feel safe at all together with the god. The feelings he evoked were more along the line of dangerous and exciting.

"Daraxan?" a melodic voice called out from somewhere ahead. Penelope looked up to see a drop-dead gorgeous woman moving toward them. She wore a tiny strip of black cloth that could barely be called a dress, high stiletto heels and a wide smile on her perfect face. A face that could be carved from marble and mounted in a classic temple. Or at least adorned a glossy fashion magazine. Her long, flowing and electric-blue locks gave a seductive sway as she walked. Penelope tensed when the woman stopped in front of them, sparing her no more than a quick, dismissive glance before she turned her attention to the theoi.
"I missed you, darling," she hummed in that heavenly voice. A to-die-for voice.
Penelope glared at Daraxan. "Friend of yours?" she murmured between her teeth. He gave her a wide-eyed, innocent look before turning to the woman.
"Hello, Thaleia! Let me introduce you to Penelope. My date."
The stress was heavy on 'date' however Thaleia ignored that completely as she was sliding her hands up his chest, red nails gleaning. "Why haven't you called?" she asked with a pout.
The nerve of the woman, to put her hands on him when she knew he was with someone else. Even if Penelope wasn't technically a date, Thaleia couldn't know that. Penelope bristled, about to snap at her when Daraxan grabbed Thaleia's wrist and removed her hands from his body. His comeback was ice-cold.
"I told you, I am here with somebody."
"But..." Thaleia's face scrunched in anger.
"Good night," Daraxan firmly shut her up before taking hold of Penelope's waist and leading them in the other direction.
She had to admit, that felt good, as she resisted the urge to crane her head and shoot Thaleia a triumphant glance. "I'm surprised you turned her away."
"Come on, Penelope. I'm not that bad." Those soft-spoken words made her feel ashamed of her cattiness. Just his intent, no doubt.

Daraxan stopped in front of the large, crescent-shaped bar, which was far less crowded than she would have suspected considering the sheer number of people in the place. The bartender was a tall man with golden skin, piercing blue eyes and long, brown rasta hair that failed to hide the pointy tops of his ears. An elf?
"Hey, Maranias, can we get two Martinis?" Daraxan caught the bartender's attention.
"You want a drink now?" she asked.
"Don't want to look like I'm working," Daraxan shrugged. "Might make some people around nervous."
She hadn't thought of that. "Does everyone here know who you are and what you do for a living?"
"Not everyone. But plenty enough that words could easily spread if people start to get fretful. And you don't have to be a warrior god when you come here, being Olympian is enough. That freaks people out, especially those with things to hide." He motioned toward two empty bar stools, then sat down on one. She thought about what he had said as she mounted the seat next to him.
"Doesn't that make your job dangerous?"
He let out a husky laugh. "Most Sapients tend to avoid fucking with the Theoi. There's a reason why you people used to fear and worship us."

The bartender returned and placed their drinks in front of them.
"Thanks!" Daraxan nodded, gripping his glass and raising it in a salute to the possible Elf. "How's it going?"
"Slow," Maranias flashed him an easy smile. "Business or pleasure tonight?"
"A bit of both."
Maranias gave Penelope a quick up and down, then he gave Daraxan a knowing wink before sauntering off. She flushed at his obvious reference. Lifting her glass to her mouth, she took a sip. The cool liquid slid down her throat, leaving behind the usual chilling effect, but there was something else too, something spicier than the regular drink. Something – tickling.
"Wow, this is delicious!"
"You should know it's way more potent than the regular drink."
She stared at the seemingly innocuous liquid in her glass. "It tastes so good."
"That's what might get you into trouble. If I was you, I'd drink no more than half of that glass."
Hard to do, when it tasted like nectar of the gods. She took another deep sip, licking her lips to get every last drop, not considering how that might look until she saw his indrawn breath and the narrowing of his eyes.
"Careful," he whispered into her ear. "Too many moves like that and you may start a brawl." His gruff words combined with the heat of his breath sent a tremor of lust coursing through her entire body. That man sure knew what to say to make her go weak. Saving herself the trouble of having to respond, Penelope raised her glass for another deep sip. Daraxan noted it, arching a brow. "The Maenads do make the best drinks."
"Maenads?" The mere word caused an unpleasant twist in her guts. The savage followers of Dionysos, known for tearing their adversaries apart limb by pained limb. She plunked her glass down onto the countertop.
He laughed at that. "So predictable, sweetheart."

A moment later Penelope was glad that she had set the liquid down, because a wave of heat crept down her body, warming her from the inside out, and she could feel her head spin and start to fluff over. Daraxan had been right, that beverage sure was potent. She watched him easing his phone out of his pocket and glance at the screen, then scanning around the room once again. "Where is he?" the Theoi rumbled.
"What about over there?" She pointed to a yonder area, separated from the main part of the hall by a gauzy curtain that was so sheer it was almost see-through.
Daraxan stiffened, looking uncomfortable, then he shook his head. "He's probably not back there."
"Don't you think we should check?" When he hesitated, she rose from her barstool and grasped his hand. "Come on."
"Penelope, I don't think..."
"You want to find this fellow, right?" she smarted and then she daringly began making her way through the crowd of strange beings, while towing a perplexed Daraxan behind her. The tiniest wave of dizziness was spearing her vision and she blinked to try to get rid of it. Was she buzzed already, from a few sips of that Maenad stuff? It didn't bother her right this moment, though. She felt more relaxed than usual, which wasn't so bad. She could use a little of that sweet relief.

When they reached the far end of the club, Penelope drew back the curtain and the next second she came to an abrupt standstill, dropping a flabbergasted squeak in a small voice. So this was why Daraxan had been hesitant about checking this area out. It seemed to be reserved for couples in various stages of undress. Unless she missed her guess completely, a fair number of them were actually making out right here. And not only in twos, but in trios and quadruples too.
"Might as well look for Mandrake while we're back here," Daraxan growled and then he too stepped inside, and then the roles were inverted, as he became the one pulling her behind him.
Everywhere Penelope looked provided a new reason to blush. In one corner a svelte Asian man stood with his arms around a black woman whose blouse was unbuttoned and halfway pulled off her body. He was biting right into her, right above one breast, cupping the other, her bra pushed aside, her head craned back and she looked like she actually enjoyed it. On another spot along the wall, a satyr was doing things she didn't dare contemplate to a human woman who had her back turned to him. Next to them stood a tall and stunning woman with the wings of an angel, and on her knees in front of her was a gorgon giving her oral pleasure, the snakes passing for her hair roping across the angel's legs, clutching her tight. Penelope swallowed hard and looked away, especially the lesbian scene was disturbing her. Only to have her eyes landing on a round sofa with naked dwarves in. Were they five or six, she didn't know, but she knew exactly what they were engaged in!
"What exactly do you do when you come here?" she felt the need to ask Daraxan, who at least had the grace to look embarrassed. He grimaced, focusing on the opposite end of the room.
"I hang in the bar. This place has good beer." She didn't quite believe him, as he seemed all too familiar with this part of the club, the way he was quickly steering her through the crowd while scanning the patrons' faces. Meanwhile, she kept her focus anchored on him, careful to avoid witnessing more peep shows involving gorgons, dwarves and whatnots. "He's not back here," the Olympian finally stated and she breathed a sigh of relief the moment he turned around and led them back toward the main part of the club. Funny how much more manageable it seemed now, she thought, when she had seen what was going on in the back.

The loud, pumping bass from the music cut out and a slower song started up. Smoke started to float out over the floor and the lasers that played rapidly in the haze were bright red like Darth Vader's light sabre. All around then couples pulled each other into embraces and swayed to the rhythm. Some didn't stop there, Penelope noted plenty of wandering hands. In a way, this part of the club wasn't that much better than the back. Yet a little devil on her shoulder prompted her to turn to Daraxan. "Let's dance."
He stopped in midstride with an expression of disbelief. "Are you serious?"
Okay, maybe she never would have suggested it on a normal night, but right now she was still a bit tipsy and shaken by what she just has witnessed so she really didn't care. "Why not? Your contact isn't here yet. Might as well do something fun until he arrives. And at least pretend to blend in." The look in his eyes made it clear he was about to refuse. "Come on," she insisted, lifting her hands to his shoulders. "It's just a dance. It won't kill you."
"It might," he mumbled between clamped teeth but in the end he sighed and wrapped his arms around her waist, giving a sensual sway of his hips.
Penelope had always loved a man who could dance. And Daraxan sure knew how to do just that. The natural rhythm he exhibited made her wonder what else he did exceptionally well. Closing her eyes, she gave herself over to the feel of his body against hers. The hard ridge of his chest beneath her palms. He was so hot, like a nuclear furnace heating her entire body until even her skimpy dress seemed like too much fabric. What would it be like to have his naked flesh tight against hers? To have him cover her with his warmth while he drove into her again and again? She could practically envisage the feel of his heated and hardened arousal against her. Just the thought of it took her breath away and made her private parts contract with an aching yearning for more than just a fantasy.

"Stop it!" Daraxan's voice was tight, strangled and Penelope's eyes flew open.
"What do you mean?" she asked, trying her best but failing to sound innocent as her lids fluttered up to find him staring down at her, his gaze blazing with lust and some other emotion that she couldn't identify. "Unless you want me to take you right now, right here, stop rolling your hips into me! I'm not one of your saints."
Penelope opened her mouth to apologize but what came out instead was an obvious dare. "You wouldn't?"
Daraxan's expression hardened, lust pouring off him in palpable waves. "You love to challenge me, don't you, mortal?" And he was right. She really did, especially when it was obvious how much he enjoyed it. These triggers were way too easy to hit. Inhaling deeply, he closed his eyes, only to open them to find her grinning at him, the challenge blazing from her deep blue eyes, lips glistening with wet. He could sense how turned on she was right now, her aura virtually screamed for him to take her. Right there, right then, just as he had threatened her. Or promised her, he didn't know which was which as a matter of fact. With just enough willpower, he snapped out of it. Instead he placed his hands on her shoulders, inhaling and glancing deep into her eyes.
"You know, Penelope, I've never wanted anyone half as badly as I want you. Even if you're trying to kick my ass most of the time. I've tried to deny what I feel for you, but for the love of Olympos but I cannot." She blinked, made a double-take. This wasn't what she'd expected, far from it. Declarations of lust maybe. But now Daraxan sounded far more serious. "I know you want me, too," he continued hoarsely, "despite that you keep trying to deny it."
"I... " When she realized she couldn't disagree, she trailed off. Much as it terrified her, she had to admit that she did want him. Bad. This man, this god, he had enchanted her in a very primal way.
"Penelope, I've told myself over and over again that it's not a good idea to complicate things between us, but I'm starting to wonder just why we're fighting this attraction."
He wasn't the only one. She had never been half as attracted to any other man before he came into her life. Despite who he was, she had the feeling that they might be astonishingly well-suited. And it wasn't just the obvious flare of physical attraction. Daraxan had not only listened to her sordid confessions the other night, he had also helped her to see that she couldn't continue blaming herself for her actions after that. He accepted her for who she was, bad attitude, stashed weapons and all. To be true, he actually seemed to like those things about her. As a matter of fact, he might just be perfect for her. That realization steeled her spine.
"Daraxan." She took a fortifying breath. "I..."

"Wait!" He stiffened as his eyes darted, focusing on something behind her as his stomach performed a flip that would have been the highlight of any acrobat's career.
"What?" She stopped abruptly and tried to turn, but Daraxan wouldn't let her, with a firm grip he held on to her.
"I think I saw... shit!"
"What is it?"
"The fugitive I've been searching for. The one who Mandrake was supposed to give me information on tonight. The evasive fella is actually here!"
... were taken down. Apparently there were complaint about the erotic nature.

So just one little warning, enter on your own risk. I don't write for kiddies, I write for mature people who are not afraid of some sensual edge in life. Those are welcome to enjoy the best parts of my gallery. The others, well I imagine that they can easily find a playground fitting them too.



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