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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
Mature content
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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The Palladium of Troy 7. Lunch
Turning a corner, Penelope was back in Eugenia's living room again, but now it was a bit more populated than earlier. In a comfy-looking sofa suite sat two stranger men, both pair of eyes focused on her, and she felt how her courage abandoned her. While watching them, she backed up slowly on wooden legs, going on pure instinct as she spotted their glowing auras. They were both among the most powerful beings she had encountered in her whole life, there was no doubth about it. Were they also theoi? Gods? Her heart dropped to the pit of her stomach, dread choking off her air supply. She barely noted Daraxan's movements as he took a step towards her, stopping safely outside her private sphere.
"Penelope, are you okay?" he asked, a concerned look on his face.
"I... " Her throat closed up on her.
He came closer yet and placed his hands on her arms, rubbing them in a comforting way. "You okay?" he repeated with his voice hushed.
She tore away from the gaze of the men in the sofa and focused i
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Mature content
Bad Bad Magdalene :iconolycksalig:olycksalig 0 2
The Palladium of Troy 6. A question of trust
Penelope stared at her reflection in the bathroom mirror, she was pale as a ghost, she realized, something haunted in her blue eyes, strained form to her lips. She didn't know what to believe. Either these people were totally crazy or what they had said were actually true. She didn't know what was worse. All she knew was that she didn't want anything to do with it. What she knew of the gods from the myths, was that it was never a good thing getting in league with them. It almost always ended up with disaster for the poor mortal involved. Death or worse, like spending the rest of one's life as a vegetable for instance. And now she seemed to have gotten tangled up right in the middle of Daraxan's claim to the Palladium of Troy, the one which Odysseus and Diomedes once had stolen from Troy and which further on had been lost to the world. This whole situation freaked her out and she wanted to get as far away as possible from this place and as soon as possible. So now what? Maybe she could
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Daily Bread :iconluddox:Luddox 7 4 Climbing Megalo Chorio :iconneonative:NeoNative 48 13 Winter in Stockholm :iconneonative:NeoNative 56 13 Binary Boogie :iconhera-of-stockholm:Hera-of-Stockholm 46 40 Santa Cyberia and Worshippers :iconhera-of-stockholm:Hera-of-Stockholm 63 33 Santa Cyberia :iconhera-of-stockholm:Hera-of-Stockholm 80 40 The castle of the Snow Queen :iconqi-art:qi-art 185 25 Ever Moving Forward Into Light :iconascending-storm:Ascending-Storm 469 0 Autumn Serenade :iconrealitydream:realityDream 161 2 Flowergirl-2 :iconcindysart:CindysArt 247 94 Rome by Night :iconunkopierbar:Unkopierbar 1,580 123 Last one standing :iconhera-of-stockholm:Hera-of-Stockholm 110 43 Reunion :iconmiova:miova 148 5 Izy Oren Ishii-019 :iconjagged-eye:jagged-eye 35 2 Portrait of Mine Laborer on Rura Penthe :iconconlaodh:Conlaodh 219 72 crazy :iconandaelentari:Andaelentari 152 33




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!"

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 Cult hadn't. Perhaps they would finally comprehend what would happen when the old ways turned into dead ends and the old powers finally failed. And fail they would, of that she had no doubt. Other members of the Cult might delude themselves that the darkness they had bound in lead would stay bound forever. Or at least for another thousand years, it was difficult to maintain personal investment in something that might happen centuries after you were dead. Even she couldn't imagine that she'd see the turning of the next decade. Not in this decrepit flesh at least.

She was startled out of her revere by the piercing chime, it almost made her recoil, regardless of having awaited it, and she swiped the screen alive with a silken-glowed hand, pressing the icon for incoming call, watching a familiar face appear in the small window that opened up in front of her, and she pulled to enlarge it, watching her own weary face giving way to another. A younger face. Like watching time roll away; the loose flesh of her throat and jaw firmed, close-cropped hair darkened and the lines on her face smoothed.
"I'm here," the voice came from the speaker, husky and breathless, edged with fear. The old woman winced to hear her granddaughter afraid, but she counted to ten before she responded, keeping face and voice indifferent.
"Is it done?" she queried.
"Yes, it's done." Annoyance replaced fear in voice on the other side of the screen, but the younger woman's eyes were wide and dark and shadowed, milky white cheeks pale and splotched. "What happened? Was it the storm? "

"Isn't it obvious?" the old woman responded. "A shield failed. We've lost a power supply, years before schedule, and another one is close to break. We've managed to temporarily halt the alteration, using the old amalgamation, but the structure won't last. And there's no spare parts around anymore. Not for this fault."
"Listen, gran, I'll have the oversea contacts..."
"Sorry," the old woman shook her head. "Only a stopgap measure. We don't have enough power to keep this up, no matter what the Count claims."
"What do you need?" the young woman didn't bother to hide her weariness as kept her voice pitched low and her caerulean eyes locked on her grandmother's. Those eyes, so alike her grandfather and her father alike, as if no time, no generations had passed. The painful memory of people long gone.
"I'll need you on a train to Dallas within three days." Watching her granddaughter's eyes roll, the old woman nearly mimicked the gesture. "I don't ask the impossible."
"No, only the intensely dangerous. What's in Dallas?"
"A Hyper engineer, Philip De Fontana. Bring him to me, Akol! Offer him anything he wants! Find the right leverage!"
"He's under surveillance already, isn't he? Why do I need to bring him in?"
"I need someone I can trust." The younger woman glanced aside again, tracking some distant sound. Behind her it was possible to could make out red hangings and flickering neon. "Where are you?"
"In a hostel. On top of a brothel." Akol grinned at the frown coming her way. "No, I haven't," she answered the unuttered question. "I don't need the money, not yet. I've still got some of the cash from the Austin holdup. And pickpocketing here is like taking candies from babies. People might as well hang their money out to dry."
The old woman couldn't keep the chortle from bubbling under, so she let it out and received a grin in return. If ever so briefly. "Find De Fontana," the grandmother sobered up. "And keep me informed! And finally, take care of yourself!"
"You too," came the short, almost protocol-ridden response and the window winked out. The older woman touched the screen again, and the connection broke, the illusion vanished, the screen switched off and the woman in the mirror was herself again. Her own grey and weary face had once reclaimed its place in the glass.

Her knees protested when she rose to dress and her robes weighed heavily on her shoulders. The day stifled as the last trace of ozone faded from the air and she would've been just as happy to go to her fellow Cultists in a softsuit, but old Sean was fond of formality and comforting rituals. Biting back a profanity, she opened the door to the closet, gazed at the outfits there, yet couldn't mobilize the tiniest interest for any of them. Not even the plum coloured leather bodysuit which fit her like a second skin these days.

The light didn't change, but she felt a shadow gather behind her. A smell of carbonized herbs, gasoline and the musk of hummus rolls drifted through the room. "She looks tired," the shadow said with a voice like rasping sand. "You work the poor child too hard. But you were always careless with your toys, weren't you?"
She craned her head, as if it was weakness not to look. The man in the corner was darkness and smoke, roiling like storm clouds within a tall, gaunt outline. His head was bald and gaunt, with a beaked nose. His leather cloak had seen better days before the fall of the Republic and his thin arms crossed his sunken chest. Something steely glittered around his right arm, one of those watches you never saw people wear these days.
"My granddaughter is none of your concern, Garm."
"You know, I've always felt a kind of kinship with her. We failed experiments should stick together." Sunlight glinted on the cracked leather of his cloak and the studs in his ears as he moved forward.
"She isn't a failure."
"Merely a disappointment, then," Garm mocked.
"I don't have time to play with you today."
"No, nor strength. You're too tired, Cynthia. So why don't you just give it up?" He drifted behind her, resting bony hands on her shoulders and she could smell the cannabis on his breath. "Who's gonna thank you anyway? When all this shit is gone? Which it'll soon be," his wicked beak of a nose brushed her cheek. "Whoever did thank you, Cynthia? Not Akol's failure of a father, no. Neither the woman lover you took when they were all gone."
"Forget it!" she shook her head, her graying dreads flying around her sunken cheeks. His taunts had long since lost their power to unsettle her. "Not today!"
"No? What if I tell the others what you've done?" his cold, shadowy form still pressed against her. "I don't think they'd appreciate your games."
"You don't want this old bitch to face justice. You want revenge."
"Maybe I'll take whatever I can get. I'm used to scraps and carrion, after all."
"You'll get your chance. But not today." She turned and laid her hand against his shoulder. "Remember that I know about your little secrets!" Garm recoiled, but the spell had already taken and his mouth opened in a silent hiss. "You keep overstepping the lines," she went on, "you'd be silenced permanently. And then, who's gonna help you?"

Without a word, Garm spun around and exited through the open door with long steps and was gone. She was alone with her angst again. The black veil of despair that hung over her, which was another effect of the storm. Once she would have trusted him to keep her secrets. Once he had trusted her to keep her promises. She made a face and picked out the plum coloured suit and began to re-dress, changing her gauzy gloves for a pair of more sturdy ones, also in leather, then pulling a tight-fitting balaclava in lead-gray spandex over her head before finally donning a black demine cape with a hood, pulling it over her head and fastening the straps in her neck. Her knees and neck ached when she left the room, the familiar pain worse than earlier, the ghost wind's handiwork. The hostel was silent, even the tall, decorative wooden doors swung shut behind her with only a whisper to mark her exit, the lock clicking shut and the retina scanner beeping alive with a steady orange sheen. The concave stone stairs were dusty and they looked more neglected than ever in the late afternoon light, streaming in from the doomed skylight, the wind whining through the cracks in the glass, a plastic bag rustling as it spun down the stairs, some leftover from a take-away meal from down in the village. She followed the bag down the stairs and outside. The courtyard too was quiet, buried under drifts of copper sand. Wide pools lay stagnant, overgrown with weeds and filmed with droning mosquitos. Green water shone gold in the westering sun. Yet, this place wasn't as deserted as it seemed, farmers and craftsmen and soldiers lived here, servants who should have been tending the pools, but she could go days without spotting anyone. She couldn't remember when she'd last seen children playing in the desolate streets. Not that she was sentimental about children, but their presence here would've served a function, fresh life to ward off the constant shadow of decay. Swept streets and clean fountains also served; order combated entropy, and mastery over one's environment had thaumaturgical benefits as well as aesthetic ones. Something ought to be done, she thought, too much was at stake in Tonopah to let the village fall into disrepair.

She walked down the broad, paved road lined by rumbling sandstone buildings with blind windows and caved in roofs, until reached the end of the street, by the white building with the conical tower which had once been a temple to the Executed God. Jorge waited at the foot of the staircase, dressed in leather and straddling his worn and scratched bike. His sand-coloured hair was long and neatly braided as ever, but thinner than she remembered it. His brown skin had been creased and weathered for decades, but now pain deepened the furrows around his eyes and pressed his mouth to a bloodless line. The only thing new about him was the gun hanging in its belt, it was still shiny and she imagined that he had not jet fired a single shot with it. Not for real, perhaps for training purpose in an arcade, she guessed.
"I'd hoped to not see this storm twice," Jorge said, offering his hand as she closed in. His fingers were crooked and gnarled, but still strong. The band of his smoky diamond ring pressed into paper-thin flesh, she doubted he'd ever took it off.
"We may see it one more time if Sean continues to ignore the truth," she said.
"I stand by you," he said quietly, reaching inside a pocket for a package of tobacco. "But there isn't much fight left in me. Cigarette?"
"I've stopped with those years ago, when they became too hard to get to be worth the price. Garm came by today."
"I'd thought the bastard to be dead," Jorge said as he lit up, inhaled the first draw greedily, his eyes smarting with content.
"Well, he aint. And he issued a warning."
"What kind?"
"Wish I could understand it. But a warning it was. Something with his voice more than his words."
"Forget him now, his not worthy of any angst from your side," Jorge advised and let the smoke filter out through narrow nostrils. "He's always been an asshole. Shall we?"

Replying with her body rather than with words she straddled the bike behind him, her arms found their way around his leathered body like so many times before and he pulled twice of the cigarette before he turned it out and returned it to the wrinkled package again, tobacco was too hard to get hold on to just throw away a half-smoked cigarette. Then he sat down too, kicked the engine in gear and soon she felt the wind tear her eyes as he took them out of the town and down the long and winding road south to the solitude building by the edge of what had once been an airfield. There were still some of those dead iron birds standing out there on the tarmac, scavenged down to the bones, and in a way they scared her with their looming presences, as if they might at any minute take into the air again and attack their vehicle. And then she doubted that Jorge's new and shiny gun would stand a chance.

They stopped by the depilated control tower and Jorge opened the rusty steel door with a lock picker, but they followed the spiral staircase downward instead of up as they had no use for the sky, their concerns were bound in earth. She brought up her flashlight as they descended, careful not to let it burn longer than necessary as it was on its second last battery and she did not know when to get hold on more of its kind. Architects were much too fond of stairs, she mused. The snail-shell spiral ended at a red door with a warning sign written upon. The metal showed signs of recent scouring, but rust still blossomed. Lead for protection, to help contain the darkness that slept inside. As much use as a sticking plaster on a severed limb, as far as she could tell, but it was very pretty. This time Jorge did not need his lockpicker. The room beyond the red door was round and domed, like the observation tower above it, and like the tower roughly twelve yards across, three times the height of a man. In the center lay a black pit six feet in diameter, covered with a huge block of a shiny black stone. Such a small space to hold so much power. So much destruction. She drew a breath, bracing herself as she stepped across the threshold. Behind her, she heard Jorge do the same. Her flashlight flared as they entered the room, reflected in the steel beams of the curved ceiling and in pipes running helter-skelter across the walls, some with round meters on, showing indicator standing at its lowest number, there were ages since anything had flowed through those pipes. However, the power of the obsidian stone was real and she nearly staggered under the weight of power in the room.
A dark-skinned woman was waiting for them. Her name was Carson and she was thin and reedy and dressed in a worn one-piece of imponderable colour under a military patterned jacket. Carson inclined her head to Cynthia, and torchlight shone against her sweat-slick brow. Her hands trembled at her sides, and the cords of her neck stood taut. She was younger than she looked, but years of living in Tonopah had taken their toll. She wasn't as resistant to the constantly leaking entropy of the oubliette as Cynthia and Jorge were.

The object of this hazard lay beneath the blackness in the center of the room, whispering softly even now. The Undoing. The doom. The bomb of the ancients.
"Is Sean joining us?" the older woman asked, keeping her voice light despite her lingering unease.
Carson shrugged. "He's busy with the outbreak in Armargosa. I'm speaking for him too."
"I'm glad to know how seriously he takes this," Cynthia said dryly. "But of course, I already knew that."
Carson frowned. Her weight shifted as if she meant to step forward, but thought the better of it. No one wanted to stand close to the lip of the pit. "We all take our mission and oaths seriously," she said. "There will be better days, the cancers will fade and perhaps not our children but grand and great-grand children will see days of a better health."
Cynthia wanted to turn away from the faith in Carson's voice, the affection he still felt for her mentor. That too would wither with time, but for Cynthia, the reminder of her long-faded youth stung. "With vigilance," she snorted. "With the vigilance of Tonopah, you mean, while you and Sean sip iced wine in the comfort of the city."
"I'm hardly sipping wine here, am I?" the younger woman shot back, her brows pulling together over her bulbous nose, dark eyes glittering menacing.
"No," Cynthia acknowledged, smoothing her tone. "Your sense of duty is not in question. But all of our burdens could be lessened if we stopped binding ourselves to this carious corpse of a place, and to an antiquated method of engineering."
"There is little profit in changing methods still working," Carson rejoined. "And a great deal to risk if something goes wrong. One broken seal is enough to lose the ghost wind, imagine what could happen if we removed them all. Sean and I..."

"Let it go, Carson," Jorge said. "You've made your feelings clear. As has Sean, with his absence from this meeting. If not for my oaths, I would be happy to let you fail. Luckily for the rest of the world, I won't."
"Well, the problem might be over sooner than we think," Cynthia said with a wry smile.
Carson's face pinched. "What have you done, Cynthia?"
"I've acted, as we should have long ago. I've summoned a Hyper engineer. The best candidate I've found in thirty years to help us deal with our burden."
"Are you crazy?" Carson's rheumy blue widened. "You fucking risk everything we work for. We won't allow it."
Cynthia smiled, sharp and cold. "The majority is mine, Carson." She glanced at Jorge who nodded slowly.
"Cynthia is right," Jorge said, knuckles whitening. "Something has to change."
"Enough argument." Carson's voice cracked. "Let's finish what we came to do, and get out of this tomb."
Cynthia nodded. "Yes, let's!"

Carson frowned, but finally nodded. The three of them positioned themselves evenly around the black pit. They didn't hold hands, but their spirits co-mingled and flowed into a circuit. Cynthia's blood beat hard in her ears, under its rhythm, a different music swelled. As she turned her attention to the oubliette, the whisper grew, became a song. Polyphonic, discordant, inhuman, but its meaning was clear nonetheless, loss and loneliness, exile and longing. It scraped and shivered over her skin, ached in the roots of her teeth, it would take them apart, if they let it, layer by layer, muscle and bone, until all that was left was dust. It was clear to Cynthia then as so many times before that the deity they worshipped was death. And she looked down at the well-known symbol of a yellow circle with a smaller black circle in the center surrounded by three even-sized, conical black blades radiating from the circle, thus forming an outer circle.

If they let this force out it would be over.

They hadn't let it yet.
"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 continent away. And then it had been his turn and he had told about his own upbringing on Olympos and his teen years spent on the world Niphelheim, a cold and barren world at the rim of the habitable sector in the Asphodel system, with Tartarus the hot and dessert like hell of innermost planet – colonized only because of its mines, once a prison colony, today more or less lawless land where no one cared to go even to beat some sense in the inhibitors, and not far out from Tartarus, the glorious Elysium. Daraxan had really wanted to go Elysium, but he had been allotted Niphelheim, second-best yet so far from Elysium that it more or less toed Tartarus when it came to execration. Still Niphelheim had hardened him, made him tough and shrewd. Taught him to kick ass and not take shit. In short it had turned him from a spoilt brat of a Theos into a man, even though he sometimes was not really found of that man.

Last night, after their visit to Agnes, Penelope had after a brief hesitation, invited him in and then they'd they stayed up so late talking that Penelope had fallen asleep on the couch and Daraxan had carried her to bed. Not willing to leave her, he had laid down next to her. She'd woken up momentarily and he'd been scared that she'd tell him to go away, but instead had she curled into his frame and after whispering goodnight fallen back asleep. Her trust had shaken him to his soul. Now, day was breaking slowly and outside the slightly open window to the balconette, the sound of cars, bikes and people began seeping in and when a lorry started reversing outside, to an annoying bleep-bleep-bleep-bleep sound, Penelope finally stirred.
"Good morning, cutie," he murmured, kissing the sensitive spot just below her ear. She blinked sleepily, smiling when she saw him and his breath caught in the throat. Stars and comets, but the woman was gorgeous even bleary-eyed like that.
"Hi," she whispered huskily. Scooping her up carefully, he set her aside so he wouldn't be tempted into doing anything stupid before she was ready for it. It didn't really work seeing as she looked so damn sexy with her blonde hair messy and her voice sleep-rough, giving him the hard-on of the century.
"Did you sleep well?" he asked, bracing himself against the unwanted lust.
"Surprisingly, yes. I didn't get the nightmares."
"I get them every other night. About those daemons." She didn't say which, that was unnecessary now, however she did look ashamed when she said it.
"Dearest," Daraxan gently whispered, pulling her back towards him, onto his lap. "Your nightmares aren't your fault. I'm just glad that you didn't get them last night."
"I think it's because of you," she decided. Her certainty that he had brought her peace made his heart clench. "You're very sweet, you know that?" she went on as she kissed the tip of his nose before sliding off the bed, leaving him gaping. Sweet? He hadn't been called that since the day he'd been born. It wasn't exactly a term applied to fighter theos like him.

Sighing, Daraxan got up and joined her by the dresser, wrapping his arms around her waist from behind and burying his face in her hair, inhaling a scent so intoxicating it drove him to madness. She relaxed into his arms and hummed contentedly. When she turned and raised up on her toes to kiss him, he shivered at the feel of her hands exploring his chest. Her touch set him on fire and it wasn't soon before he was desperate for her, aching. Lifting her up, he wrapped her legs around his waist, groaning as she settled against his erection. His fingers played in her hair, slowly sliding down to the neckline of her powder-blue pajama jacket. When she didn't object, he fondled her breast, enjoying the way she squirmed.
"The pleasures I could give you," he tempted against her lips. "Just say the word and I will give you ecstasies you have never imagined even existed." Just to prove his point, he dropped his head and kissed the exposed top of her breast, dragging his teeth slowly against her sensitized flesh. Penelope arched into him, her hands tangled in his hair, her legs locked around his hips.
What he wouldn't give for her to do that naked! Slowly, carefully, he slid her pajama top off her shoulders, kissing all the points he knew drove a woman insane. She twisted in his arms, trying to get closer and he smiled against her skin. When he transferred them back to the bed, she barely noticed, dragging her lips back up to his. Maybe it was because she was still sleepy or maybe it was because she was trying to forget her nightmares, but Penelope made no objection no matter what he did. That was until he had her down to nothing but her panties, his lips working at her breast.

"Daraxan," she rolled over in bed. "I know what you want, and I sort of want it too. Yet..." She broke off, guilt plain on her face. "I am not ready." She shook her head and then she sat up. "I cannot get involved with you emotionally. Not now. Perhaps when we have finished our duties, this business deal of yours..." she paused and braced herself, but he held up his hand.
"I understand," he interjected. "And I'm sorry for trying to push things." He then decided that the safest things to do was changing subject. "Let's get ready and then let's go out and I buy you breakfast and I can tell you all you need to know about tonight."
"Tonight," she frowned and then it dawned upon her. "Oh, yeah, the Hedonistica. Yes, what should I wear for instance."
"We'll how about something which is..." he hesitated. "As a matter of fact, I think you could need some help from Agnes with that. She's good at these things."  


"You're taking Penelope to the Hedonistica?" Anassiou was clearly amused.
"She insisted," Daraxan replied. "And she can be pretty damn clamorous."
Anassiou then laughed long and loud. "I never would've believed it. Big brother Daraxan, pussy-whipped."
"Go fuck yourself!"
"Sure, I got less chance of catching anything nasty that way."
Next to him Corian let out a snort. "Anassiou, give it a rest. He'd have to actually get some pussy in order to be whipped,
wouldn't he?"
"Screw you, too," Daraxan shot back at Corian. He never should have confessed that he hadn't slept with Penelope, but when Corian asked him point-blank, he wasn't able to deny it. Daraxan turned his back to the brightly sunlit view of the Aegean and strolled from the terrace back into Corian's living room, his brothers trailing after.
"Have you thought seriously about this?" Corian asked and Daraxan glanced over his shoulder back at his older brother. "Remember, she damn near freaked out when it was just our group. And we're Theoi. Pretty similar to mortals. Generally harmless. How do you think she'll react in a club full of non-humans? Non-humans like THESE particular non-humans."
"Devious and shifty, the whole lot of them," Anassiou added.
Daraxan thought about it for a minute. "You know, I think she'll handle it fine. Penelope's tough. She's seen shit you wouldn't believe and come out stronger from it."
"Sounds like you admire her," Corian slumped down as he kept his dark-blue eyes focused on his younger brother. "You sound like you want me to like her."
"Do I?"
"Why not? She's tough. She's beautiful," Corian shrugged, "she might actually be perfect for you."
"You're crazy," Daraxan protested, "she's mortal!"
"That didn't stop people like Dionysos, Chrysmedon or Amphinomus."
"They had father helping them. Transforming their DNA," Daraxan sighed. "Not to mention Eros, who bargained with father when he wanted to get Hera back. Who am I to think I could even ask for the same benefit from him?" Inside he couldn't help but think Corian had a point. Maybe, once this was all over he'd find out.
"Why shouldn't you?" Corian asked. "You're nothing less, nor any more than any of those guys. Perhaps they'd lived around Zeus for a longer time, Chrysmedon is even a son of Hera, mind you. Still..."
"Corian! What's the point in even contemplating this?" Daraxan cut in. "I'm not even sure we're compatible. Besides all the genetical barriers that is." That was a lie, but he wanted his brothers out of his hair.
"Don't mind him," Anassiou interjected as he looked up from the car magazine he was browsing through. "Now that he's hitched, he wants everyone to feel his pain."
"Best thing that ever happened to me." There was no mistaking the stark honesty in Corian's voice. "So where is she now?"
"Downtown with Eugenia shopping. Something to wear for tonight's excursion."


Penelope hesitated and glanced around. The miniscule boutique held a display of skimpy dresses in metallic colours, some of them hardly more than bikinis. Trying not to blush she glanced at Eugenia from the corner of her eye to see the older woman look from the outfits to Penelope and then back. Penelope thought she saw Eugenia's lips quirk.
"See anything that suits you?" Yes, she was definitely smiling now. Penelope shook her head and ducked around the side to see if there was anything less revealing hanging out of sight. A black and silver one-piece caught her eye. She pulled it off the rack and scrutinized it. The back was very low, only covering what was necessary but the front had a shallow scoop neck. The other pro was that she could wear her regular boots with the daggers tugged inside their compartments.
"This one?" Eugenia slid up behind Penelope before the latter could look over her shoulder at her. Eugenia eyed the suit for a moment, before her lips curved. "Good choice."
"You like it?"
"Indeed I do, you have good taste, Penelope. And the little black dress is never out of place, not even at the Hedonistica. Then, should you wish to wear it at a place where the dresscode is, well, a bit less revealing, you just wear it underneath a jacket. And now, shoes..."
"I've already got shoes," Penelope returned.
"I hope you're not intending to wear something with mile long, needle thin heels," Eugenia said. "No, offence, dear, but you might have to run. After all the Hedonistica is not any sensible people's regular hangout. And on top of that, Daraxan is generally seeing some, well not exactly regular people, when he goes there. And that's irregular in a bad way."
"Don't worry," Penelope assured. "I'm wearing what you might call a pair of sensible shoes." Then she turned the price tag to view it, and almost balked. The price was nothing near sensible. Too many zeros. "Damn it, Eugenia, this'll cost me more than a monthly salary."
"Yeah, it's amazing, isn't it? The less textile, the more the price!" Eugenia shook her head, then she laid her hand upon Penelope's arm as the latter made a move to return the dress to the hanger. "I think that should be counted as 'expenses'," she said.
"I'm a librarian," Penelope protested. "I don't exactly have any expenses. Nothing that includes clothes like this at least."
"I was rather thinking about the dear Daraxan's expenses," Eugenia got something wayward in her face. "I'll cover for him, for the time being," she said and reached inside her small handbag, retrieving a credit card. And when Penelope started to protest, Eugenia silenced her. "He can at least buy you a dress if he's planning to haul you along to Hedonistica of all places."
Penelope nodded, deciding against better consciousness to not say a word about that it had been her idea to tag along to the night club. Then she protested vaguely for a brief moment as Eugenia caught the attention of the saleswoman and let her bring the credit card reader, purchasing the dress for Penelope.

Moments later the women left the small shop, Penelope carrying a black and purple bag with swirling silver letters, even the bag looked sinful she realized.
"Do you," she began and then she hesitated, blushing.
"Do I?" Eugenia tilted her head and looked at Penelope through the corner of her eye, urging her to go on. And when Penelope found herself lost for words, Eugenia took mercy upon her and went on. "...often shop at the Little LuLu's? No, I don't, as it's not really my style in there. That said, I've got a few dresses from that place as well. I've been to Hedonistica too, you know. But they're mostly for teasing Corian with," she smiled.
"About your husband?" Penelope asked as they stopped in front of a small café, figuring that they wanted to celebrate Penelope's purchase with a cup of coffee.
"Yes, what about him?"
"Do you love him?"
"Why, of course I do," Eugenia laughed. "OK, I'm not madly in love with him as those first crazy years. But I can still say I love him and that I'll continue to do so for many many years to come. One day we might decide to have children, and then we must be sure about each other. I don't intend to raise any children being a single mother. That's simply not part of my life-plan. Or the way I envision myself. Come on now," she then said and took Penelope under the arm, escorting her to an empty window table. "What do you drink?"
"Oh, let me pay for this myself!"
"Sure thing," Eugenia laughed. "You pay with your story, because I'm dying to hear it."
Penelope frowned at that, did Eugenia suspect that she had told Daraxan things that were so sensitive it hurts, and did she have a reason for wanting to hear them as well? "Eugenia, my story is not exactly a feel-good one."
"Well, skip the not so good parts if you like," the Primordial goodness said as she hung her jacket on the opposite chair of the one Penelope had slipped down upon. "I mostly want to know what it's like to live with a magic ability and still try to retain a normal, human life."
"Well, that I can help you with," Penelope smiled. She was beginning to really like Eugenia and the honesty she displayed.


The Little Black Dress looked much smaller once the moment of truth came but she slipped it over her head and let it fall down to her hips, threading the arms through the openings. She glanced into her bedroom floor-to-ceiling mirror. Nothing below her collar bone showed in the front. Then she turned her back and looked over her shoulder. The entirety of her back showed, down to half an inch above what she would prefer not to show in public. She could return it and look for a new one, she thought. But even as that notion came to her, she pictured Daraxan's appreciative stare on her bare skin and she nibbled on her lip to keep from grinning like a fool.
"Okay, so it's a keeper," she chuckled under her breath. Then she pulled a bit at the skirt part, although she knew it was in vain. The thing was way too short for a librarian. Then again, tonight she was not a librarian. Tonight she was a superheroine. Somebody like Wonderwoman or Storm, ready to take on the world and bend it to her will!

Daraxan was already waiting the moment Penelope stepped into the darkening living room. His back to her, he stared out the window as if pondering the city outside, Athens in early fall sheen. She noticed that he still had the bag he had been carrying. As she watched him, he reached inside of the bag and brought out a white, somewhat shimmering garment, a shirt of some kind, although she had never seen such a material before, it was white and rainbow coloured at the same time. She blinked as it somewhat affected her retinas and irated them. The next moment she was distracted as he pulled his black t-skirt over his head and without her consent, her eyes fastened on the bared skin. He rolled his shoulders, stretching his arms over his head as he stood and the muscles bunched and rippled with the movements. Then he slowly turned his head to look at her and his eyes sparkled with amusement. The humor transmuted into something much hotter the moment he took in her appearance. He spun to face her, taking several steps in her direction before he paused. She tore her eyes away from his only to have them land on his chest.
"I need a glass of water." She coughed as she glanced in the direction of the kitchen area, only snatching quick peeks at him from the corner of her eye, noticing that he had no such qualms. He openly stared. When he passed behind her and caught a glimpse of her bare back, she thought she heard a rumbling growl. Imagined or not, it sent a shiver down her spine and her skin tingled pleasantly. Taking a few rapid steps, she made it into the kitchen and over to the counter where she grasped a glass from the shelf and filled it with cold water. Once she had taken two large gulps, she spun around to face him.
"You look very..." she trailed off. Hot, her mind screamed, he looks hot. She forced her mouth to form 'Nice' instead. He smiled, as if he'd heard her private thoughts.
"Thank you," his eyes moved over her. "And you look... pleasing." How on earth was he going to keep his hands off her tonight? Keeping his poker-face on though, he settled for exploring her with a blatantly sexual perusal. "I like your dress."

Unable to come up with any sensible response, she simply smiled and nodded her head. He took her silence as permission to approach her. "I'm going to call for a taxi now," he said. Then he stretched and put on the glittering tunic and she couldn't help reaching out and finger the fabric, it felt strange between her fingers, soft and strong at the same time, like Kevlar or silk, and oddly warm.
"What is this?"
"It's Kernaoud," Daraxan said. "A material woven from the leaves of the Olympian Kernid trees."
"It's beautiful!"
"Yes, but more important is its strength, a Kernaoud outfit this thick can stop a bullet. And it doesn't burn or get sliced through."
"You think it's gonna be rough tonight?"
"Never hurts to be prepared."
"And you fear you might get harmed," Penelope couldn't help worry from colouring her voice."
"No, not really. But I don't want to return home in rags. That often provides with more problem than an actual brawl. And now when I'm out with you I cannot just warp home."  


The mortal was far more interesting than Enzo had initially given her credit for. She could see through Veneers for chaos' sake! Leave it to Daraxan to discover such a gem! Excitement lent a brief quiver to Enzo's hands. Obviously, there had to be a good reason why Daraxan wanted this mortal and Enzo could bet his ass that it had something to do with The Adjurations of Cronos. The slip of paper he had got from Xenidor Saitou lay in a crumpled rectangle on his desk. Enzo picked it up and smoothed it out to examine the geographic coordinates written on it. The satyr had been right, they did indeed lead to a hidden portal somewhere between Athens and Corinth, a portal reportedly created in secret by a disgruntled employee of the Council. If Enzo's informers were right, and they better had to be taken in mind what he paid them, that portal was his ticket to The Adjurations of Cronos. The tome might be kept under bolt and lock in Olympos but he was not resourceless, not even against the locks of Hephaestos himself. And he was close now, so near the power the old tome contained. The ancient power of the mightiest of the Titans. But before Enzo made his move, he would have to find out what Daraxan was up to. If this mortal girl Penelope was helping him, then Enzo planned to steal her right out from under Daraxan's nose, the way his former friend had done with his first and only love, Deborah. Recently, he had learned what Penelope wanted most. Like him, she sought vengeance and he might be in a position to give it to her.
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 daggers at him because he had told her off. Then again, the world of the theoi was different in many ways, mostly due to the long life spans of his specie. Monogamy for instance was something almost unheard of. Yes, theoi married, but it was not like they didn't have lovers in addition most of the times. His own father was an excellent example of that. Besides, in a world with no venereal deceases, no deceases at all for that matters, and where women controlled their ovulation, a little fun alongside wasn't seen as anything strange, rather as something almost healthy and refreshing.

This evening, Agnes had forgone the opulence of the formal dining room, with its massive oak table that seated a dozen and instead she had led them to a far more intimate dining alcove located off the kitchen. If he asked, the Lar goddess would probably have explicated that it was because they were only three tonight, but most probably, it was because she wanted him within easy reach. Even now, as the starter was being carried in, her hand closed around his knee, traveling a path up his thigh, trying to stake her claim. Lifting a brow, Daraxan crossed his legs so her hand slid away. He could feel her displeasure radiating towards him although she chose to keep a poker face. He then glanced down at his plate, some kind of seafood canapé.
"I do hope the food is palatable. Noah is new, but he did come with the best recommendations."
"It's a bit, well, archaic to my taste," Penelope responded as she cut a piece off the small dish. "But perhaps that's because you're an old Roman. Daraxan told me about it. And old habits die hard." Saying that, she put an emphasis on OLD, making it clearly implied. Daraxan almost choked at the obvious insinuation and from the way she stiffened, Agnes hadn't missed it either. He uttered a silent thanks when she didn't rise to the bait. Instead she trailed a hand down his arm and gave him a steamy glance.
"I guess that comes with immortality, sooner or later your habits become archaic." After a moment of marked silence, she added, "but I guess that's nothing you have to bother your little head with, my dear."
Daraxan mentally threw his hands up in the air. What had he been thinking, bringing these two women together? If they could end this already miserable evening without one of them trying to kill the other, it would be a small miracle. Lucky for him though, Penelope let the matter drop instead of snapping out a response. Instead she directed a glance at his plate.
"How about you, is kind of dish more up your alley?"
"Not really," he shrugged and tilted his chair back slightly, "We're mostly vegetarian at Olympos."
"Nectar and Ambrosia, right?" Penelope leaned forward.
He had forgotten how little she knew about his kind. "Not exactly. Rather various fruits, cheese and wine."

She eyed him as if he was some sort of science project she wanted to dissect. Yet, even that turned him on. He almost forgot about Agnes sitting at his side. The old Roman must have noticed it too, because when she spoke her voice was cold as ice. "You two don't seem to know each other too well."
"That's not a requirement, is it?" Penelope replied flatly as she sat back in her chair. "We're working together on this project. Keeping it professional." Although Daraxan couldn't say he was surprised, her cold rebuff stung. It was an obvious and deliberate disclaimer of any ownership entitlements on him. Agnes didn't miss it either, she perked up in her chair, almost smiling. Then she wouldn't shut up. She talked about everything from life in ancient Rome to dating a famous porn star. The woman talked so much that he wondered how he had ever found her attractive to begin with.

"You know, it's getting late," Daraxan rose to his feet as he got sick of listening and watching Penelope picking at her food. "And we have a drive home too, so let's get down to business with this translation thing!"
"Oh, I forget about mortals and their odd sleep schedules," Agnes slid back in her seat and turned to Penelope. "You slumber away the best parts of the day. But sure thing, I'll have the promised look at your piece of text." Agnes stood too and without further wordings, she turned and led them out of the dining room, where the same kind of silent servants as at Corian's place began to clear off the plates, then she walked across the hall and into a library of some kind. Here a fire had been built in the hearthside. It was not yet lit, but Agnes took care of that with a rapid movement of her right hand and soon it was crackling merrily from the logs. Then she indicated an imposing table and bade them to sit down.
Daraxan propped up the briefcase on the table, snapped it open and produced the folder with the document he had got from Xenidor Saitou, the satyr, handing the papers over to the Lar. "This is it."
She scrutinized the papers. "You're lucky you stumbled upon me. How many other people do you know who can read Latin?"
"I might find a few if I go looking," Daraxan shot back, and as he noted her eyes turn black he grinned. "But not anyone else I'd really trust."
"Why thanks," Hearing that, Agnes' mood seemed to pick up quite a bit. Then Daraxan and Penelope waited impatiently for her to finish both pages. When she put them down in front of her on the table, there was a frown marring her perfect face.
"What is it?" Daraxan asked. "The believed location of the Trojan Palladium?"
"Not exactly," she hedged, as she carefully folded the papers and handed them back to him.
"What, then?"
"Let me begin with some background," Agnes said, "what do you know of the Palladium, Daraxan?"
"I know that it was created by Athena and infused with protective power, given as a gift to Troy long before my sister became an enemy of that town. And at the end of the Trojan war Odysseus and Diomedes stole the statue and brought it with them. The whole story with the horse, made famous by old Homer, was really a ruse. The real reason for Troy to fall was the removal of the Palladium, and the magic protection it offered. According to some rumours I've been investigating, the Palladium was later transferred to Rome, and after that it's unclear what might have happened to it. I'm not even sure that it ever got to Rome, as I see no reason for Odysseus to have taken it there."
"Yes, it was in Rome," Agnes confirmed. "I saw it myself. Apparently, Odysseus traded the Palladium with the wind god Aeolous for fair winds back home to Ithaca, not that it helped him in the end, because he screwed up later. But Aeolous in turn traded the Palladium with Aeneas, the exiled Trojan. Aphrodite's son. And thus it was brought to Rome and was kept there for almost 500 years. Before, according to this document, it was taken to Constantinople."
"Constantinople?" Penelope asked. "As in Istanbul, Turkey? So it almost came back home again?" Agnes chose to ignore her totally and Penelope felt herself starting to fume again. Not wanting another cat-fight, Daraxan cut in.
"Go on, Agnes, what more does this document say?"
"It tells the story of three sisters who know where the demigod emperor Elagabalus buried the Palladium. According to that, these sisters were rumored lovers of Elagabalus and he entrusted them with the Palladium's location, believing they'd never reveal it to someone who wasn't worthy. These papers contain directions to where the sisters can be found."
"Okay." Daraxan sat forward and propped his elbows on his legs. "But if emperor Elagabalus was Roman, he lived a long time ago, to say the least. What are the odds these women are even still around?"
"Really good, I'd say," Agnes' lips curved into a little smile as she nodded toward the papers in his hand. "After all the sisters you're looking for are none other than the Moirai. Or the Fates as they are also known as."
"Oh, really!" Daraxan put a hand to his forehead. "The elusive ones. Only Zeus knows where they dwell these days. And something tells me he won't help me in this."

"Why wouldn't he?" Penelope cut in. She was understanding less and less of the divine world. "Wouldn't he also be interested in finding the Palladium again?"
"One would think so," Daraxan said. "Only that he's considering this my mission. My duty. I have to do this on my own, not with the help of dear father." As Penelope huffed he turned again to Agnes. "So tell me what more does it say? Learning that the fates know where the Palladium is doesn't help much if we don't know where they are. Are they even still on Earth?"
"No," Agnes shook her head. "The directions start with 'Purple River's tributary', whatever that might mean."
Daraxan knew what it meant though, the Purple River floated across the main continent of his mother's world. "Kandanaki."
"Yes, that should make sense," Agnes figured. "The Moirai sisters are after all Chthonian immortals."
"Chthonians? Just great!" His gut told him that these sisters were trouble in its purest and simplest form. Chthonians were powerful and skilled and most of all unpredictable. The fates had left the Olympian society already before he was born, but he had heard a lot of stories about them, one creepier than the next. So he wasn't exactly keen on seeking them out, most of all when they were hiding away on Kandanaki, a clear sign that they were not that interested in being found these days.
"They will be dangerous," Agnes warned him.
"My usual luck." He rubbed a hand across his weary eyes.
"And wouldn't you know it, but finding the sisters is only the first step. After that you have to prove your worthiness."
"My worthiness? Piece of cake, right?" If only he actually believed that.
"We'll see," Agnes said. "I do believe you're able, but the question is whether you will be willing."
"Go on!" His voice sharper than he had intended.
"This document suggests some different ways in which the Moirai might seek to determine your worth." She laughed again. "Let's just say they are rumored to be quite inventive."
Her words dropped like a lead weight in his stomach. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"They are apparently quite insatiable in the bedroom. Why do you think Zeus was so enamored of them?" Agnes laughed as if she knew something which he didn't, but she sobered with her next words. "If you do learn of the Palladium's location, how do you plan to get past the invisibility spell? Not even the Moirai sisters can help you with that."
That was where Penelope came in, but there was no way he was telling Agnes that, though. "Let me worry about that part."
She nodded her head in agreement. "I'll transcribe the directions for you."
"Thank you, Agnes."

Ten minutes later, as Agnes handed over her transcriptions to Daraxan, he put it down in the folder together with the original document and then he stood, turning towards Penelope. "Ready to go?"
"Sure thing," she replied as she almost rocketed out of her chair. Was she ever! Agnes followed them to the front hall where her butler was waiting. When he caught eye of them he opened the door to allow them out. "Good evening, miss, sir!"
"Yeah you too, Joseph," Daraxan replied. "Keep rolling, dude!" The butler merely sniffed and closed the door quickly. "Always up for a good time, that guy," Daraxan grinned but Penelope didn't bother replying. Instead she took the lead back to the car and as soon as she heard the blip telling her that he had unlocked it, she opened the passenger door and slid into the seat. There she sat silently while he turned the vehicle around and began driving them back to Athens. Palpable tension filled the air. Daraxan must have felt it too, because he only drove for a few minutes before breaking the silence. "It's over," he said.
"What is over?"
"With Agnes," his fingers tapped the wheel, "we did have a relation, that is true. But it was about a hundred years ago. And it was she who ended it. Although I can imagine that she regretted it as soon as the words slipped out of her."
"I don't want to hear about it," she mumbled. Still, she couldn't help the waves of relief that rolled through her and she turned to face him. "So now what? We're going to see the Fates?" He scratched his chin, scruffy from a day's growth. "What is it?" she prompted.
"Just if you're prepared to come along on one lengthy and perhaps tedious journey. As Agnes said, they don't live here on Earth. They've relocated to Kandanaki, the dimension where the nymphs originate from. My mother's home."
"Okay, I'm all up for a trip. So how we you going there?"
"We'll use the Greek portal. The one in the Parthenon."
"The one I saw?"
"Yes, but not until the day after tomorrow. There's another assignment I need to take care of tomorrow night."
"What kind of assignment?"

Daraxan blew his horn at a Taxi which just appeared out of nowhere right in front of him, and he had to do some elegant ballet with the car to avoid hitting the other vehicle.
"I wonder how any cars stay alive in the Athenian traffic," he murmured through clamped teeth.
"What is it that you do?"
"What, driving?"
"No, I mean this assignment, what is it about?"
"Believe it or not, but Enzo is far from the only supernatural threat against Earth, even if he's the worst right now. This Sapient I'm looking for is trying to seize control over a major part of Earth's weapon industry."
"What for?"
"There are wars going on in some worlds. Terrible wars which would make your World War II look like a pillow fight. And for wars you need weapon. And people on your planet are good at making them."
"So he intends to steal Earth weapons?"
"Not stealing them, manufacturing them and selling them off planet."
"Is that so bad then?"
"Not for you perhaps, but for the other worlds. And eventually Earth might suffer too as it might find itself drawn into a conflict it has no need to be a part of."
"But..." she fell silent.
"I see I've finally rendered you speechless," Daraxan grinned.
"You could say that. I had no idea things like that existed. That there were people out there who wanted our guns. So, Daraxan, what do you do about it, dash in somewhere with guns blazing?"
"Not exactly," His eyes fixated on her. "I've a meeting with a contact who's got some information on this Sapient I'm hunting."
"You're off to Cloud Cuckoo Land again?"
"No," Daraxan let out a chortle. "That place is pretty much too tame for Mandrake, my contact."
"Too tame?" If this Mandrake character thought Cloud Cuckoo Land was tame, she didn't think she wanted to know what he considered fun.
"There's an Otherworlder club in Peristeri which he likes to frequent. It's called Hedonistica."
Hedonistica, that name sounded familiar and after a few moments Penelope recalled where she had heard it. "Agnes said that's where she and you met."
He fidgeted in his seat. "Yeah."
"That makes it a pretty old place, even for Athens."
"Yes, you wouldn't believe, but there's some real old places hidden all over this town. Places, which has been around since the 'age of heroes'. Hedonistica is just one of them. And by the way, it's run by one of my oldest brothers, Dionysos, you might've heard about him."
"The god of wine and ecstasy," she blinked. "So he's still around?"
"He's very much around, be sure of that, Pen!"

"I'm going with you," she heard herself say. Okay, where did that come from? Curiosity, of that kind that had killed more than one cat? Daraxan's husky laugh filled the interior of the car.
"I wouldn't think so, Penelope dear."
"I can take care of myself. In case you've forgotten."
"I've no doubt about that, but Hedonistica makes Cloud Cuckoo Land look like McDonalds. It's bristling with creatures of all shapes and sizes, ready and eager to let their freak flags fly. You recall the Minotaurs?"
"More of them there, plus, pull out any bestiary from any mythology, and you'll have them there. Harpies, Gorgons, Cyclops, Trolls, Banshees, Goblins, Ogres, Yokais, Daemons, Loas, Devils... Not to mention things you haven't heard about but which you don't want to meet unprepared or on a bad Monday. Hedonistica caters to the dregs of Otherworlder society. The misfits and the outcasts. To say that the place is risqué would be a major understatement. That place is too dangerous for you. And I'm not saying it to disparage you, I'm saying this as a decent person to another. It would be wrong of me to endanger you by letting you in there."
A tiny ball of apprehension knotted up in Penelope's stomach. From Daraxan's description of the place, it wasn't where she would normally volunteer to go. The monsters of the dark side of mythology would scare anyone shitless and being in a club jam packed with them made her hair stand on the back of her neck. Nevertheless, she wasn't about to back down now. "I don't care about that. Besides, didn't we decide that we're partners?" she finally concluded.
"In the quest for the Palladium, this is another kind of business."
"It doesn't matter. If I am to help you, I want to learn about your world, so that I can be good at what's expected of me."
"All right," Daraxan shook his head. "Suit yourself then. But if you're going to tag along, you'll have to do everything I say and the moment I say it. And not complaining when the going gets rough, which it will, trust me on that! And if you fuck up, I refuse to take any responsibility for it."
"Deal!" he hooted in return. Then he fell silent for a minute or two as he made it through an intersection halfway blocked off by a construction work. When he spoke anew, his voice had turned serious. "Listen, it's been a long day and tomorrow won't be shorter. I'll drive you home."
"Thanks," she repeated, this time it was another kind of gratitude, she was actually dog-tired, she realized.
"When do you go off tomorrow?"
"At six PM."
"I'll come picking you up then."
"Great," she mumbled as she felt herself relax. Closing her eyes, she rested her head on the seat, trying to not fall asleep to the murmuring sound of the car engine and the repetitive shiftings of the light as the car passed beneath the streetlights.

When the car came to a rolling stop in front of her apartment building, he got out and walked around the car. After opening her door, Daraxan held his hand out to her. Penelope took it and rose to her feet. Her legs gave a mortifying wobble. She was so tired it almost hurt. How was she going to make it up the stairs and inside of her flat? She concentrated on taking deep, even breaths. It would be okay, no big deal. She had just been through a bit too much over the last few days.
"You sure you're okay, sweetheart?" He took her under her arm, steadying her. She gave him a weak nod, trying not to let her embarrassment show. He escorted her to the front of the building, where she stopped, fumbled in her back to bring out her key-ring, then almost dropping it before she was able to force the right key into the keyhole, unlocking the door. Daraxan took the handle and held the door open for her.

He was suddenly behind her, hands on her shoulders, body burning into her.
"Sweetheart?" he breathed, lips right by her ear. She shivered as his lips began a slow descent, nipping and licking her skin, sending electricity sizzling all over my body. How could he make her mindless with nothing more than a few touches?
"Daraxan, I..." But he cut her off, mouth covering hers. His lips were impossibly soft compared to the rest of his steely body. His tongue and his hair too. She went completely limp and pliant in his arms, completely unable to do anything except wrap her arms around his neck as he lifted her up against the rough, whitewashed wall of her house. But when his hands reached for the buttons on her blouse, she came back to my senses. "Daraxan, forget it!" she shook her head while trying to inch away from his eager hands.
"Stop playing me," he growled, leaning forward even more so he completely encompassed her. This close, she could see every shadow, every dip and curve of his perfect face. His brown eyes were nearly black with desire. The feral tilt to his eyes and the sharp cut of his cheekbones made him look like some half-wild forest god. And those lips...
"In case you haven't noticed we're right down in the street. Where people can see us."
"So?" he smirked. "This is Athens, a 4000 years old city, do you really believe nobody had kissed in these streets before?"
"You seem more inclined on making out than a mere kiss, and I don't want to get arrested for misconduct."
"I don't think people will call the cop because of two people snogging in the shadows of a portal."
"Yes, but now is not a good time, Daraxan."
Finally he backed off. "When will there be a good time then?"
"Some day, when we are done with the business part. If we still think this – snogging part – is a good idea then, perhaps we can do it."
He chuckled. "I'll take you up on that, sweetheart. In the meantime, I'll walk you up, make sure you come inside all right."
"All right," she mutedly agreed.
... 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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