MK2K: Calming the Storm

by Ryx


The street was pretty much empty, for the most part, given the hour and the location. It was not prime; it was not even haute fair. It was, in a word, middling at best; which was why only two girls were working this lonely stretch of ill-attended commercial buildings and scattered shopping centers, on a Monday night, some short time after the tolling of the high hour.

Margarette paced back and forth on the familiar patch of concrete, sixty paces by sixty paces at the corner of Strident and Harendon, her arms clasped across her chest to ward off the settling chill. She cast about once more for eyes glancing toward her, the turn of step in a prospective client, or the slow easing-over of a skimmer or smoggie. None showed any interest in her, or her partner standing a few paces away.

Lanette was rocking on the balls of her feet, the spiked heels of her shoes elevating slightly, then clicking back down on the concrete as she cast around with alert, eager eyes for anybody at all. Margarette -- or Ret, as her friends often called her -- frowned as she looked at her partner, taking a slow breath and letting it out. The itch was beginning to gnaw at her neck, that first telltale sign that the storm was over and the drought would soon begin. Nette was still in full storm, having taken a decent quaff of Rain just an hour before. The spike had crashed through her like
an errant bolt of lightning, but that was the part she always complained about liking the least -- that brief flash of euphoria before the Storm hit.

For Ret the first strike was nice but hardly worthwhile, since it lasted only a brief span, even for her. She was not as inured to it as Nette was, as she had only been taken by the storm for some seven months. Nette had been storming for years, and it showed in her posture and in the lines of her face. Her body was worn, haggard from years wired to
the edge on Rain.

"Hey girl, there's you one," Nette quipped, her hand shaking with suppressed excitement as she pointed off down the opposite street. Her whole body had a subtle twitch about it, as if the dark-skinned Silvaan woman was scared out of her mind and barely holding onto sanity in the face of some unimaginable fear. In truth, she was as calm and sane as the next person, but her body was caught in the adrenalized rush of the storm. Only the Rain allowed her mind some distance from the keyed-up state of her endorphin levels, letting her experience the acuity of heightened perceptions and sensations without suffering the anxiety that went along with such an adrenal rush.

Suffering a sudden surge of jealous envy at Nette's luck at scoring a shot of Rain, Ret grumbled and threw a glance down toward the indicated shadows. What Nette could see was nothing more than a solitary walker moving along the walkway and staring into shop windows. It was not that he was out of the ordinary for that, as there were many window shoppers around normally. At a quarter past high hour, though, when everything was closed, it made him stand out like a cop on a dealers' corner.

The fact that he was a skunk did not strike her as at all out of the ordinary, though she did frown at that. With skunks she'd have to demand an all-night fee, which often spooked the newbies off for the cost. Not that she did it out of spite for the species, but because it would take her hours to wash the musk off. Even with that, she'd have a subtle mephitis reek for days afterward.

Serving tricks to skunks was a dicey business, and Ret was not one who specialized in them. But she knew them, certainly enough, which was why she did not turn away in disgust at the prospect of bedding one again. At least this one was male.

Male, and strangely dressed at that, a fact which Nette noted with a short titter of girlish enthusiasm brought on by the storm. When Nette was in drought she was unlivable to be around. "Check 'is clothes, girl!"

"They're out of style, so what?" Ret muttered darkly, as they watched the skunk amble down the far street aimlessly, like a lost tourist who'd been awake far too long after a red-eye flight. He did not walk drunk, or even stoned, and lacked the tense twitch and bounce of a stormy.

"Yah, 'few decades out, but look at 'em. They cut clean, fit nice, and look pricey," Nette offered encouragingly, reaching out to nudge at the small of Ret's back with one tightly balled hand. "Go git 'im, looks like 'e needs company."

Taking a steeling breath, she cast a glance at Nette, and then stepped from the curb. She was not worried about being run down, as the only things moving on the street were trash-hauling smoggies that could be heard three blocks away. Crossing quickly, she nonetheless glanced both directions in the off-chance that a cop might be cruising nearby. As an unlicensed prostitute she was risking a hefty fine, and even a stint in the local lockup. Despite being just around the corner, so to speak, from the most moneyed city on the planet, Caralore was far from rich. The local law
enforcement did little to help anyone escape the dangerous, deadly grasp of Rain.

As she got closer she could see that Nette had indeed been right: the skunk was garbed richly. His wardrobe consisted of a deep burgundy suit cut to a northern style, heavy but accommodating of his animorphed physique and fur, made of a fabric that forty years ago would have cost a small fortune. Even in a few local consignment shops she had seen similar clothing asking steep prices. His attention was directed away from her, the long pluming sweep of his thick tail drawn up behind him in a relaxed curve. Closing, she could see that his fur was very well-groomed and had a reassuring gleam of good health. In this neck of the woods, far from the fiercely-held territory of licensed Sensualists, she seldom saw a theriomorph whose fur showed signs of a fully healthy lifestyle.

"Lost?" she asked as she drew abreast of him, a few paces away, and adopted her best inquisitive pose. She did not flaunt the fact that she was a prostitute by adopting an overly suggestive slant or a cocky angle to her posture, merely standing in a relaxed way a short distance from him. Close enough to be seen, heard, and even smelled by theriomorphs with keener noses, but far enough away to run, or kick him square in the gonads should he turn out to be less dapper in mind than his clothes suggested.

He stopped abruptly, his body betraying no startlement or surprise, and merely turned to look toward her curiously, a lost expression on his angular muzzle. He looked like he'd just woken up, she thought as she scanned his face. She was passing decent at reading theriomorph facial and body features, since she had lived in lands surrounding Metamor for almost a decade, but since the Curse affected everyone in subtly different ways she was always wary of her first impressions. She let intuition be her guide more often than not.

And even if she was reading him wrong, the growing gnaw at her guts and the itch racing up the back of her neck warned her that she was going to need to find some income soon, before the drought rendered her too ragged to accomplish the delicate task of seducing some other person for their money.

He only had one eye, she noted, as he turned toward her, his left eye covered by an ornate patch of black leather that was studded with no less than a dozen glimmering rubies. His one eye blinked at her once, slowly, dark like the eye of an animal and lacking any redeeming human-ness for her return gaze to catch. The Curse had gone far with him, she realized, though not so far as to reduce him to a state of animal vapidity.

"Lost, hon?" she asked again as she met his gaze -- or hoped she did, noting that he never spared a discernable glance toward her cleavage, or too-short skirt.

"You'll do," he replied, quite out of sorts with the question asked. She frowned, taking a slow step back and shifting her weight slightly. One bad move on his part and she was ready to launch his crotch skyward the half-second before she turned to run.

"Pardon, hon?" she asked, confused frown still pulling at the corners of her mouth. She was conscious of the cool night air chasing across her skin as she felt the fight-or-flight rush of adrenaline course through her body. Opening negotiations always brought that rush to her, staving off for a moment the growing gnaw of the drought.

"Where is private?" he continued, turning more squarely to her, but not moving his hands from where they hung listlessly at his sides, still looking only half-awake.

"What do you have?" she countered, shooting a glance across the street toward Nette, who was watching alertly and giving a quick thumbs-up.

"Plenty enough for the night. Where?" he asked again, as he slowly and clumsily dug into a pocket of his blazer to pull out a handful of heavy gold coins -- Garretts of the old Northern Midlands, obviously ancient but still gleaming like new. Ret's teeth set and her jaw clenched at the naïve way that he proffered enough cash in one open paw to buy her Rain for two years. Reaching out swiftly, she grasped his hand and folded his fingers quickly over the gleaming gold, looking around hastily to see if anyone else had been watching. Nette was too far away, and her angle wrong
to have seen his hand at all, which was a good thing. She was a greedy, amoral, and thoroughly faithless woman when it came to getting money. If she had seen the gold she would likely have knocked Ret senseless within
moments, and then the skunk, to get his gold.

"Come with me, I have a place," she said, as she shifted her grasp to his elbow, turning to walk alongside him as if it were he escorting her and not the other way around.

"Yours?" he asked, his lassitude making it difficult for him to keep pace with her. He was a head shorter than she was, standing only to her shoulder, and was forced to look either up at her face or directly at her breasts when he turned his head to address her.

"Hotel," she quipped, as she half-led, half-dragged him to an intersecting street and around the corner. The hotel in question, lacking any real name for the casual observer, was only four doors down. It was not a rats' nest -- unless some of the tenants were truly rats -- though it was not a four-crown palace, either. But the rooms were clean, the staff unobtrusive, and the desk clerk a good friend. When she hauled the skunk through the glass double doors of the lobby the desk clerk looked up, eyebrows arched, but said not a word.

He merely reached over to the key-board on the wall and handed one to her, his eyes raking up and down the skunk appraisingly. He would not care about the stink, since most of his rooms had the same universal musk that any older building in the Curse-touched lands would have. Without another glance at her, he jotted a note in his ledger and went back to reading the book he had been immersed in when she opened the outer doors.

Room three-twelve was just like the other rooms on any of the five floors, and she spared it no regard at all as she opened the door, drew her client in, and closed it behind her. Turning over the dial above the lock to 'Do Not Disturb', she hung the key on the peg nearby and turned toward the skunk.

He was standing in the center of the room at the foot of the large bed, looking either lost or confused, like a sleepwalker who was not sure if waking was the better idea or not. His lassitude was a little unsettling to her, but the gold she had seen banished her doubts and made her somewhat more bold than usual. Crossing over to him, Ret placed her hands upon his shoulders and gazed down into his good eye, noting from the periphery of her focus how her face gazed back at her in glittering red profusion from the rubies of his eyepatch.

"What's your cup of fire, lover?" she purred softly as she smiled, running her hands down his arms. Reaching his wrists she drew her hands inward, worried free the buttons of his blazer, and drew it off his shoulders, an action which he did nothing to contest. She suppressed a quiet inner sigh at his lack of enthusiasm. He was going to be a dead lay.

Quite the contrary, she found out. Once his clothes were off, and hers were similarly discarded, he fell upon her with an almost bestial carnality that took her breath away. Despite his fierceness and unforeseen strength, his hands were gentle enough. He managed to keep the heavy claws tipping his fingers from digging into her unprotected flesh as
he surmounted her and entered into the initial coupling without fanfare or foreplay. It was all she could do to hold on for the ride and enjoy it.

At least he wasn't a stallion, as rough as he was initially. Desperate was more the word that sprang to mind; like a prison inmate who has not seen or felt a naked woman in thirty years. She rode him out with growing enjoyment until he rose to his peak and fell away, gasping mightily, body crashing upon hers even as the last of his energies fled. Some minutes later he shifted to fall on his back beside her upon the bed, which had never been drawn down. They had coupled right upon the covers, amidst their own discarded clothing.

"Who are you?" he asked, pausing once to clear his throat and take a deep breath. His voice was changed, stronger despite the weakness of his limbs and body. Ret slowly worked to reclaim her own racing breaths as she resettled herself and basked in the lesser afterglow of her own highs.

"Margarette," she answered, looking across at him from the corner of her eye. He reached up and, with a strange little wave of his hand, vanquished the overhead light without touching a switch. She blinked at the sudden gloom, softened only by the light of a mage-sign glowing steadily from some nearby billboard outside the curtained window.

Propping himself up on one elbow he turned to face her, his dark eye glittering with scattered reflections, and reached out to lightly stroke one of her breasts with the fingers of one hand. He idly lifted her countercurse amulet with one finger, and she thought she saw in the shadowed lines of his face a smile. "I am Findahl, Margarette. Please, tell me
about yourself?"

For some reason, the strange request did not come as entirely counterclimactic to the recent exchange, and she found herself smiling as well. Who was this stranger to ask such questions of her? She could not say, but she found herself opening up and letting words flow from her as freely as if she were talking to Semm, the desk clerk downstairs -- one of the few males who did not ogle her with the obvious intention of bedding her. She would hear a lot of questions from him concerning the skunk in the morning, however.

Margarette hin'Jylnass had come to Metamor from Silvassa to be a sex worker, just as her mother and her grandmother had been. There had never been any formally-recognized males in their lineage, only accidents that
were accepted and raised as the gifts that they were. Ret's mother had made no illusions about the fact that she was conceived purely as an accident, and there was no knowing who the father was. Raised by mother and grandmother, Ret had never felt that lack, and had desired nothing more than to be more than her mother and grandmother had ever been. In the Empire of Metamor the profession of sexual practitioner was a recognised, licensed, regulated and taxable service. It was a profession largely practiced out of the open public eye, but it was recognized enough to have several fully-accredited colleges devoted to its study. One of the most famous was The Sutt Institute of the Sensual Arts, located only a block east of the Citadel of Metamor and overseen by the originator of the movement himself.

That had been Ret's aspiration, to become a licensed Sensualist and a fully-degreed Master of Sensual Studies. Her mother had always wanted to attend the school, but her overseer had been a corrupt socialite dedicated more to serving the machinations of the Vampire Queen than to the furtherance of his employees' skills or safety, both medically and in dealing with troublesome clients.

For three years she dedicated herself full-time to the college, and once she had earned her Masters' degree she had joined one of the more noteworthy and higher-ranged Sensualist parlors within Metamor, quietly earning a profitable living doing what she loved best. At Turelea's House she had been popular and skilled, taking another two years to follow graduate studies in a variety of topics dedicated to the pleasure of others and the teaching of such skills to other Sensualists.

Then came the Storm.

Rain -- the drug as clear as water, and as potent as a summer cloudburst. One of her clients had slipped it to her during a high society gathering, and from there it had been a rapid downward spiral, as she turned more and more of her energies to procuring the common but highly illegal quasi-magical narcotic.

She explained all of this to her black-and-white furred client, who offered little in return but attentive, silent, gentle caresses of his fingers -- and, occasionally, his very facile tongue. His second approach to the act of love-making was far more traditional than the first, desperate coupling. He prefaced it with slow seduction, even as he coaxed more of her history and life from her lips, from deep within the secret corners of her heart where she had so lately feared to gaze.

As she explained her studies in the Sutt Institute, she also showed by example the skills that a first-year Sensualist was expected to learn and to understand. Based as it was in Metamor, the heart of the Curse itself, the college dedicated itself to a study of sexuality that stretched far beyond what was understood in many other countries. For in
Metamor, one's client might well be a woman, who was born a man, who still had the urges of her past masculinity, confused by the physical desires that came with being female. Or one might encounter another species entirely, trapped halfway between one extreme and the other, but no less deserving of the physical intimacy that any other human was accorded. Such learned and practiced intimacies she revealed to her gentle, quiet, one-eyed client, as they brought each other much more slowly and sensually toward a second climax. To his credit, she went higher than she would have normally expected, and stayed there longer, beyond even the point of being able to continue
speaking for the better part of an hour, before he rose to meet her and they came down together.

The age-regressed, however, were more problematic. That was an area that Ret had studiously avoided in her courses, avoided while in the employ of Turelea, and avoided still in the dark back streets of Caralore.

She had avoided the Curse herself by the simple measure of a government-supplied amulet, which staved off its touch so long as it was worn. While she could remove it for a few hours, or even for a few days, she had to be careful not to misplace it entirely for more than nine days or so. After that span of time, even the powerful enchantments of the amulet could not reverse the effects of the Curse.

For a long time she talked about the events of her life leading up to that disastrous social event. She did not know which client had slipped her the Rain-laced cocktail, but she knew that it must have been one that was disgruntled with her. Drug or alcohol addiction was one of the few things that Turelea would not tolerate in her Sensualists -- Rain especially, as it was dangerous to attempt to wean a person away from. A hard crash, called a drought, which lasted too long was invariably fatal. The drug itself was expensive, and monitoring patients coming down was more expensive still.

To save costs, though it pained her, Turelea had been forced to let Ret go. With a growing addiction and no way to rehabilitate herself, it was impossible for Ret to pass the annual medical tests the Sensualists' Guild required; she dared not attempt to have her license renewed.

By the time she had reached the explanation of her current situation -- existing solely to procure more Rain that was only available through her Breed overseer -- she was in tears, crying into the warm fur of her client's shoulder.

His response was, as before, to seduce her. There was something different about the third turn, something that was halfway between the primal lust of the first and the tender seduction of the second. His hands were stronger, more insistent, the touch of his tongue and teeth more skilled and more pronounced. He brought her up swiftly, holding her at the knife's edge for what seemed like ages. He had to be a Sensualist himself, she thought through the dizzying white fog that was her mind, to be so skilled. He denied that when she asked, stating that he was merely an apprentice mage from Ellcaran. To take her mind away from the question, he returned to what he was doing, voice fading to a rolling, trilling growl that echoed in her ears.

When he finally moved upon her she was ready, hungry, eager for his touch. He loomed large over her, a white-slashed shadow in the dark gloom of the room. His hands grasped her upper arms, his body pressing heavily down upon her as that one dark eye gleamed in the shadows of his face.

When he entered her, she thought her life would end in that moment, for fire blossomed within her heart, blinding her mind with brilliant cascades of agony. She thought she screamed, but no sound emerged from her throat, though she felt her vocal cords sing with the terror of her pain. Her mouth opened in a soundless shriek of unvoiceable pain, as his presence subsumed her from within and without, spreading a merciless flame of agony before it.

Then it was over, the flame quenched like a candle dropped into water. Her body, arched up against his in a vain attempt to escape the fire that burned from every direction at once, slumped heavily to the bed as her mind spun with a strange clarity. She wanted to strike out at him, she wanted to pull his balls from his crotch and shove them down his throat.

She wanted to visit upon him the pain that he had visited upon her, but he would not move. She could not move; the pain had sapped from her every shred of strength she had ever thought she had possessed, and more. His body rested heavily upon her, his presence still strong within her, that one dark eye boring into her gaze as she fought to control her ragged breath.

Her throat ached from screaming, though she had heard no sound. Her muscles trembled from the depth of her exhaustion. Her mind was reeling from the pain, but it was strangely clear. For several long minutes they remained there in frozen tableau, each feeling themselves within, around, and upon the other. Weakly, she raised one hand to his face and raked her long fingernails through the thick fur of his cheekruff. from ear to nose. With the weakness of a kitten, her savage, raking attack became a tender caress that he turned his face into, closing his one eye and kissing the inside of her wrist before her hand fell away.

She wept.

He moved aside and collapsed, and in short order they both slept.

Ret awoke slowly some time later, blinking her eyes as her mind brought itself back to consciousness. She was alone, but she could hear the hiss and roar of the shower through the open doorway into the bathroom. The room was dimly lit by daylight coming through the heavy curtains covering the large window facing the street, but she had pawned her watch three weeks past and had no way of knowing exactly what time it was.

She hoped that Nette had told Grawe about her client.

As she contemplated Grawe's inevitable wrath at her not showing up promptly at dawn, regardless of the demands of any client, she realized that something was wrong. It took her several minutes, lying there in silence, staring at the ceiling and feeling a slow, growing unease beginning in her gut and gnawing outward to her heart. When that gnawing fear reached her throat and threatened to stifle her breathing, she suddenly understood.

Her apprehension was the only gnawing sensation that she was suffering. There was no growing unease clawing at the back of her neck and pinching her heart, despite having gone thirty hours or more without a dose of Rain. She sat up abruptly, eyes blinking rapidly as she tried to assess her physical situation. In the last several months she had grown accustomed to the subtle bite of early-stage drought, but even that was missing.

Standing, she glanced toward the bathroom, but she could see nothing of her client. The mirror was a white-hazed surface, the shower door much the same. With all of that fur, he must need to take long showers indeed. Crossing to the dresser, where they had eventually piled their clothes after that first intense coupling, she retrieved her possessions and laid them on the bed. Still nude, and feeling the bad need for a shower herself after coupling three times in the span of as many hours, she glanced once more toward the bathroom before quickly and efficiently rifling through
the skunk's clothing.

His wallet held nothing more than a transit receipt for the local maglev; the station of origin was listed as Ellcaran, but dated four days past. There was no paper currency at all, no credit chips, no identification; not even the casual detritus she would have expected. No canceled checks, pay stubs, jotted notes on scraps of paper. He was totally

From his jacket pocket she withdrew the five golden Metamor coins he had shown her the night before. She turned them over slowly in her hands, watching the lamplight gleam from the aged, polished metal as she contemplated the coins. In her hand she held enough liquid currency to keep her in Rain for nearly two years if she stayed at the same dosage level.

But she found, with some disquiet and giddy relief, that she had no hunger for another Storm. It was like a memory of something ecstatically pleasant, but just that -- a memory, and nothing more. She could feel a resistance to the urge within her very heart, a resolve to never let the tantalizing fire of Rain pass her lips again so long as she was alive.

"Those are yours."

The voice so startled her that she jumped back a pace, two of the coins cascading from her hand to thump heavily to the floor, one of them rolling in a short circle that ended against her unclad foot. She faced the skunk with her jaw hanging in an aborted protest of her innocence, clasping her free hand across her breasts in shock as she gasped to reclaim her stolen breath.

He was standing a couple of paces outside the bathroom door, vigorously toweling down the fur of his head. His body under all that fur was impressive, her professional mind noted in reflexive appraisal, but she still found that she could not speak. His good eye gazed at her from under a fold of the pale blue hotel towel as he waited for her to

When she did not, as she could not, he spoke again. "I know what you're about. Those were there for you," he said again. He let the towel drape across his shoulders, one hand grasping either end at his chest. "You're an unlicensed sex worker. I know the easiest way for you to earn your pay is by--"

"I was!" she managed to squeak at last, affronted by his casual admission of her lamentably low status. "I was licensed, but..." She trailed off, as her lot in life settled once more upon her shoulders. His dark eye gleaming a muted spark in the dim, diffuse glow of the light, the skunk cocked his head, his rounded ears pricking forward. Behind him his damp, bedraggled-looking tail swept back and forth slowly.

" 'But'? You are certainly skilled enough."

She could not suppress the pleased blush that stole across her cheeks and breasts at the simple, honest compliment. "Y-you too," she stammered with a shrug, as she turned to lay the three coins remaining in her hand on top of the dresser, then bent to pick up the other two. She used the few moments of idle activity to compose herself again. "I was licensed. I'm probably still on the books, but Grawe destroyed it when ...when I ended up working for him."

" 'Ended up.' It sounds like your lot was falling hard," he observed, as he crossed back to the bed and sat upon the corner, gazing up at her.

"The Rain does not show much mercy," she admitted, reaching across the short distance between them to stroke an errant bit of fur from his brow. His pelt was damp and cool to her touch, and she found that he did not stink nearly so powerfully as most other skunks that she had serviced.

"Ah. That is a drug I am not familiar with," he said, with a slight shrug. "What would you do if you could escape its grasp?"

"Finish my schooling," she said with a fervent voice, sitting down beside him and resting her cheek on the cool, damp fur of his shoulder. "Return to Turelea's House, because I'm sure she'd be happy to take me back."

"Then why don't you?"

"Because of the Rain. She can't risk her Sensualists getting wrapped up in addictions. She could lose her license."

"The Rain still has you?" he asked gently, resting one hand upon her thigh. She stifled the urge to draw away, feeling how dirty her legs must be, seeing the scattered black fur clinging to her flesh. She wrinkled her nose when she realized that she could smell herself more than she could smell him. Contemplating his question, however, she found herself at a total loss.

The bite was not there. That gnawing fistula of hunger and desperate urge that had been her constant companion for nearly the last year was gone.

"I ... I don't know," she said softly, drawing back to look into his one good eye. His other, no longer covered by the ornate leather patch, was a gruesome hollow of shadows and savaged flesh, but she did not look away.

"What did you do?" she asked finally, suddenly realizing what that fire had been with their last coupling, the terrible agony he had visited upon her that she had not understood.

"Very little. The rest is up to you."

She scowled slightly as her eyes focused upon that one dark orb. "Who are you?" she queried again, her voice pensive, wary.

"Findahl. Merely an apprentice mage from Ellcaran," he answered again, as he had in the darkness only scant hours ago.

She shook her head in disbelief as she stood up. "No mere apprentice could burn the Rain from my body and mind," she said quietly, looking down at him. "Not even a coterie of masters could reverse its grasp."

"It is not an easy thing, no," he admitted with a slight shrug. "But it was the least I could do to repay you for my rescue. As bound as I was to you, as close as our two spirits were for that brief span of time, I could reach in and pull down the veil that it had placed upon you." His eye traveled down her body, then back up, a smile touching one corner of his angular mephitid muzzle.

"Rescued you?" she asked, a frown pulling her mouth as her brows knitted over her eyes.

"Indeed. Sometimes I get so wrapped up in the weave of magic I am casting that I am caught halfway between the here and the there, and cannot escape. It takes something ... an intense physical exchange between me and another," he said slowly, as if trying to find the words to explain it just right to her ears, unaccustomed as they were to discussions of magical practice. "Violence works better. To focus upon the fragile energies of another being and flay them with physical violence is a rapid awakener, but it is something I abhor." He reached out and lightly traced just the tips of his fingers across the lower curve of one breast, eliciting a chill that raced up her spine and kindling a spark of fire in her loins. "The strength of your spiritual anchor, closely bound to mine in the moment of highest unity, brought me back from the precarious balance I had been trying to defeat for three days."

She suddenly found herself giggling girlishly at his seductive, almost tickling touch. She lightly batted his hand away as she smiled. "You make me sound like the heroine of some cheesy action-hero vid!" she exclaimed, as she took another step back away, closer to the bathroom and the much-needed shower.

He laughed as well. "Tall, beautiful, skilled, and stronger than you might know," he said, with a quick nod and a strange blink of his one eye that she realized belatedly was a wink. "Shower, dress. I will leave you to your devices now, pretty Margarette, and hope perchance one day to reacquaint myself with you at Turelea's House in Metamor."

Her glee turned to a hollow emptiness at his words as she slumped slightly. She had hoped that, after her shower, she would be able to share with him one last time, enjoying the tender intimacy that he had shown her during their second coupling. The pain and confusion of the third had quite banished the pleasure of the second from her mind. "Must you
leave so swiftly?" she begged, stepping forward and grasping both of his hands, raising them to her chest as she gazed forlornly into his one good eye.

His focus switched from one eye to the other as he regarded her for several long seconds, then he smiled and chuckled softly. "Well, it is certainly more pleasant to be groomed than to groom myself," he admitted with a
rakish smile.


Murikeer Khunnas, far more than a mere apprentice mage, walked confidently down the crowded upper-level boulevards of Metamor City with a light step and an alert gleam in his one eye. The tryst with the Sensualist had done
him a great deal of good, since waking after his Long Sleep always left him feeling only half-alive until he expended himself in some intense physical activity. He had learned long ago that hunting down some violence was often
more than he was up to, so shortly after being roused from a sleep of years, decades, or even centuries. Finding a Sensualist -- or even a cheap whore, as was the usual norm -- was much easier once he reached the populated areas around Metamor.

Of course, he was not the type to take a quick tryst and move on heedlessly. Usually he was quite selective of those females he sought out, looking for ones that had some inherent weakness, injury, or flaw that he was confident that he could make right. He knew that few, especially those of the lowest castes of the sex trade, ever really wanted to be in that industry. In recompense for his often brutal opening sexual release, he prised from them the true nature of their problems, and worked to correct them even as he exercised his body into full wakefulness upon their flesh and pleasure.

Thus far, in the five centuries since he had taken up that path, he had been able to save eleven from their fates. He had only failed once, and that was only because the agents of his ancient nemesis had been close at hand and struck at him during that period of weak vulnerability. Much like Llyn, she had absorbed the brunt of an attack intended for him. His attackers had paid much the same price as Llyn's murderer had for that attack -- not because he was enraged at being attacked at such a vulnerable time, but because an innocent woman, unknowing of the conflicts between he and his ancient adversary, was slain in the effort to destroy him.

At least Margarette would get away from her current situation with little overall harm. Once her current overseer was eliminated -- a fear that she had explained to him during their second day together -- she would not have the onus of his vengeance hanging over her shoulder.

Opening the door to a well-established, exclusive tavern in the upper levels of Metamor City's towering structure, he glanced around briefly. He spied the person he was looking for quite easily. Not by any outward, easily-identified insignia that revealed his function or person, but merely from the experience of over a thousand years of working with his sort. He nodded to the bartender, who looked up at his entrance, and crossed to the table where his contact was seated.

The man looked up as the skunk settled into the ornate antique chair, his brows drawing up curiously as his fingers curled around the mug of golden-red lager set before him on the table. He was a wolverine 'morph, tall and heavy-set, and he looked vaguely uncomfortable sitting there in his ill-fitted suit.

"You're him?" the man asked, as the floor server approached and quietly placed a menu before the skunk and
drifted away.

"Him?" Murikeer asked, as he picked up the menu and folded it open with the tip of one thumbclaw.

"The one whose orders popped up on my comp two hours ago, bearing the Imperial Seal," the wolverine muttered, his brows drawing down over his eyes. They were thick brows, accenting a broad forehead above a heavy muzzle. The faint scattering of white hairs across his chin was the only sign of the long years he had spent in his profession.

"That would indeed be myself." The skunk nodded without looking up from his perusal of the menu. "I have two requests to make of you, Captain, before I send you on your way. I do thank you, however, for taking yourself
away from whatever tasks you had before you when I summoned you."

The big man leaned across the table and snatched Murikeer's menu down to the table with a sharp slap of plastic on wood, his claws flexing as he did so."Look, bud, you might be older than god," he growled, "but that does not make you my master, you got that?"

"I am no one's master, Captain. And no one is older than Eli, though I am older than you by a few centuries," the skunk replied smoothly, not attempting to draw the menu away. "You've never met me, and I understand your ire at my wishes taking sudden precedence over every other case that you're dealing with, so I only intend to ask two things of you. First, there is a half-lutin on the Lightspan district of Caralore who has been pandering unlicensed courtesans. My sources tell me that he has contacts throughout Metamor and the Northlands who actively work to get highly-skilled Sensualists addicted to some substance called Rain."

The wolverine nodded gravely. "I've heard mention of a group doing that, then hauling off their new prizes to other cities. There are also rumors that they're intentionally forcing them to undergo the Curse."

Murikeer scowled; Ret had not said anything like that. "Could not so much speak about that, as my sources did not say anything like that. His name is Grawe, and he's currently based out of the address that was included in the document you received."

The captain grunted. "His record is extensive, but there isn't enough concrete evidence to hold him for any length of time."

Slowly nodding, Murikeer slid a sheet of paper across the table after retrieving his menu. "Those locations will prove fruitful for gathering evidence."

The man looked at the list curiously, frowning. "What's at these places?"

"Those who failed," the skunk replied with a grim expression.

The waiter quietly ghosted up and cast them both a meaningful look, his hands clasped at his back. Murikeer quickly ordered something from the menu, and then bantered the captain into making a selection of his own. "I own the place," he said, after the waiter left with their order, eliciting a quick upward twitch of the man's thick brows.

"And the second thing?" the big man asked, calming a bit as the affable good nature of his host put him at ease. He did indeed have a rather tall stack of cases waiting for him back at the precinct house, but a free lunch at a highly exclusive private tavern was something that he, on his salary, was not about to pass up.

"I need you to find a priest for me."

"A what?" the captain asked, surprised. Mages, especially powerful ones like the skunk seated across the table from him, usually had very little comport with those of the cloth.

"A priest. Specifically, one who goes by the name of Elvmere."

"Another of the ancients. I should have figured," the wolverine grunted, then shrugged as another round of drinks was brought over by the bartender. "I know he's working not far from here, but he's pretty nomadic. Pops up now and then for some high-priority situation, then just vanishes again. His existence isn't exactly public knowledge, but I have a few contacts in the Citadel. Get you his current location by tomorrow."

"That's sufficient," the skunk said at length, leaning back in his chair to stretch slightly. "Now, Captain, let's talk."

"About?" the wolverine asked over the brim of his mug, after taking a pull from the pricey lager he had ordered. One cask of the stuff cost more than he made in a year, much to his chagrin.

"The last thirty years."



Copyright 2003 by Ryx. If you want to post this anywhere else, please ask for permission first. Thank you.