There was no other option.
Run. Run as hard and as fast as she could; as far away from there as she could.
Run as though her life depended upon it.
For it did.
Though she had run the jogging trail hudreds of times, the night and wisps of fog, and what chased her, had turned it frighteningly alien and the crunch of running shoes on the pavement had turned into the scratch and scuff against grass. With a loud scream, she went careening off of a tree and hurried on once more.
Death was chasing her, toying with her. She could feel it coming nearer and the adrenaline rush that terror inspired urged her onward, ever onward.
She screamed when a branch slashed her across the face; swatted it away and ran on. Then a sharp sting at the back of the neck and the last bit of sane reasoning told her that it was simply the branch swining back as she went past. The hand that instinctively rubbed the sting and drew away a small needle-like dart told the truth, however. Heart pounding and breath coming in ragged, sobbing gasps, she stumbled, regained her feet and staggered onward.
She stumbled again, and again; first over a rock then a fallen limb. When she scrambled upward once more, her muscles began to cramp and spasm; forcing anguished screams of pain past her lips. The screams died out to tormented gasps for breath as the figure came up to where she lay half-curled in a fetal ball. She wanted to cry out, or strike at the figure, or anything at all as it was revealed to be a man that bent down over her and lifted her up. She did none of those things; could do none of those things. It seemed as though even breathing was becoming an insurmountable obstacle.
He held her unresisting body close to his own and she could see the mask that hid his face and managed one more, feeble yelp at the leering, salacious visage. Laying her out upon a large, flat stone and forcing her stiff arms and legs away from her torso by main strength brought only the merest whispering whimpers from her. Nor did his use of a knife to slice away her running suit elicit more of a response from her. She could feel ropes lashed around wrists and ankles, preventing her from curling back against herself.
She could feel his hand as it violated her with a harshness that made her grunt. Yet everytime she tried to draw a breath only the merest, rattling inhalation came. She realised she was suffocating as his member replaced his hand and could feel him pumping rhythmically against her. Lack of oxygen was making her vision blur and fade yet her hearing was certain enough to hear the gutteral, sing-song chanting the man did as he continued to rape her. The same blade that denuded her now seemed to dance against her unmoving flesh; feathery touches that brought fire to her fog-chilled flesh.
Dizzy, disoriented, terrified, she was a prisoner within her dying body as the masked creature continued with the chant and the cut and the rape.
She was on fire.
She was frozen.
She was on the razor's edge of hope and despair; terror and relief, life and death.
Though she lacked the breath to do it justice, the sight of silvered moonlight glinting from the blade as it raised high up over her body brought a last, sighing scream past her lips to echo feebly as the knife came blazing down...
"Master! Master, oh please, wake up, Master!"
"Hmmm.....wh-whaisit?" Dylan stirred at the relentless rocking of his body. And it had been a pleasant dream for once.
"Master, please wake up!" He heard her again as awareness was slowly creeping back into his body. He then snapped instantly awake as he realised that it was Miriya that was jostling him and that she must be truly troubled if she was calling him 'Master' once more instead of Dylan.
"I'm awake, Miriya," He said calmly, trying to quell her own apparent panic. "What has you so riled?"
"Master, it's the Martians! They're invading!"
"Dear, could you please repeat that?"
"Ma-...er, Dylan, the Martians are invading!" She seemed to be calming down now that he was awake and showing none of the fear she, herself, felt. He smiled reassuringly at her and stroked the hand that was still on his shoulder.
"You've been watching television again, haven't you?"
"Yes, Dylan I have..." She seemed to stop midstatement, and he wondered if perhaps the sun had just risen; a quick glance at the bedside clock spoke otherwise, though, as she spoke once more, "The Martians aren't invading, are they, Dylan?"
"No, dear, they aren't invading. And, as near as anyone has ever been able to determine, they cannot invade us."
"They can't? Why?"
"Because there is no such creature as a Martian. Or, if there ever was, they have long sinced died out as Mars grew old and cold. But that has never stopped anyone from writing or making movies about them."
He got out of bed and put on a robe, smiling to her as she helped it over his shoulders, "Now, shall we see about your invasion, dear?"
They went to the television room just as the screen showed the image of copper-coloured manta-shaped Martian war machines floating through 1950's Las Angeles, blissfully destroying buildings with heat rays and disintigration beams.
"Miriya, do you remember what I told you about television?"
"Yes. You said that there were things on television that were real, things that were not real, and things that were a mixture of both." She thought for a few moments and, as she tapped a finger against her chin, he wondered if perhaps she was learning too much from him if she was starting to copy his mannerisms as well. "This is one of the 'not real' things?"
"That is correct," He replied, "Though I can't really blame you for the confusion. 'The War of the Worlds' has terrified people for several generations now. I'll tell you sometime about the radio version from over fifty years ago that caused an entire nation to panic. But it is just a story. A work of fiction, like...like..."
He chuckled as he found that he was the one tapping his chin, "Well, dear, I was about to say like 'Pinnochio,' but I'm starting to wonder if I might not be looking at the inspiration for that story."
"Pinnochio? Who is that?"
"A story usually told to, and for, children. It's about an old Italian puppet maker. He longed for a son, so he created a marionette that a faery brought to life." He was about to continue when he saw her face, nearly literally, light up in recognition.
"Are you talking about Pistachio, Dylan?"
"Yes," She nodded. "There was a mage from Naples that came to meet Mistress, Kalindriel and I once. He studied with Mistress for a time, then he created one like me; but he made a boy instead of a girl. He wasn't as well-made as I."
"Do I detect a bit of pride, Miriya?" He asked, chuckling. In nearly three months, she had grown from being so subservient that he had to tell her to sleep or to do nearly anything else to being fairly independent of thought; though she still looked to him for approval.
"It's truth, Dylan. He couldn't move like I can. Geppetto only made joints like in most marionettes, though he did spend some time on the hands and...um...well...he was a boy, you know."
"I think my modesty is starting to rub off on you, isn't it? I think I can figure out what you mean."
She nodded and turned the television off after the movie ended, happy to see that the Martians did not win after all. Dylan had walked over to the cabinet that held things he had told her were called "video tapes." He selected one and fed it to the device beneath the television. She knew that when he did that, images would show on the screen; images that had been captured at a diferent time. These images were very bright and colourful and soon she was laughing as the device told the story of this "Pinnochio."
"Oh, Dylan! They have it all wrong! Geppetto didn't want a son...and it was not his nose that grew when he spoke lies."
"I'm probably going to regret asking, and I think I already know the answer, but does it have something to do with..." And he deliberately imitated her, grinning, "um...well, being a boy, you know?"
"Kalindriel is the one that named him Pistachio, Dylan." She was laughing, "I can still hear her, 'If you tell the truth one more time while Miriya and I are loving you, I'll chop you up for firewood!'"
Some minutes later, after picking himself off the floor, Dylan managed to regain his composure.
The sunrise came, though, inside the house it was hard to tell, and Dylan proceded with his daily lessons with Miriya. Even with the reminder of her past, it was increasingly hard to think of her as a creature of magic; a marionette come to life. And, because of that, he was teaching her some magics that would make it easier for her to walk openly amongst human beings.
"Good...now focus a bit more...see yourself as you might look were you flesh and blood...just relax and let the magic flow...that's it...that would be the easiest way; your skin is already a good shade. Just 'see' it in your mind's eye; see the lines where the pieces of your body overlap fade away into a seamless whole...Yes, yes! Just like that! Now, hold onto that image, hold onto it and set it as a side-thought like I taught you; once it is set up, it doesn't need a lot of direct attention to hold onto it. Now, open your eyes and look at yourself in the mirror."
Miriya did as she was bidden and stared, wide-eyed at her reflection, "I-I'm no longer wood!" And, at least as far as appearances went, she was not. She ran a smooth-skinned hand over a smooth-skinned face, then frowned a bit as the scale-like patterning of her wooden flesh shone in the reflection once again. She concentrated for a moment and the smoothness returned.
"Very good, dear," Dylan complimented her, "The spell is called a glamourie and it doesn't really change you; it simply changes the way you look. Like an illusion but more focused and limited to you. In time, you will be able to work the magic and make yourself look like an entirely different person but, for now, we'll just work on getting this one so that it stays up with only the merest effort on your part."
She liked the magic, liked that it would make her look like a human. Dylan had told her that there were no others like her in this time; though there were people who were trying to make beings similar to what she was. He called them by strange names; Robot; Android; Gynoid. But she was the only creature he knew of that was even remotely capable of what the others attempted; imitate a human being's form, function and ability to think and reason. That would cause problems for her were she to venture out into the towns and cities. Thus he was teaching her magics that would disguise her. They had been at it throughout the day and were about to stop for supper when the telephone rang.
Dylan picked up the receiver, "Yes? Yes, I am he; how may I help you? Ah, inspector Burbidge...I'd say it's nice to hear from you again, but...yes, yes...He's struck again?...I'll be there in thirty minutes."
He hung up the phone, and Miriya could feel him growing distant, a bit colder; something akin to the glamouries that he was teaching her, but not a use of magic. She had seen it before, when he had told her about his 'work.'
Dylan apDaffyd Gwydion was a mage; a fact that was a secret to most of the world at large. A mage that used his skills to aid people; protecting them from people and things that hurt and harmed.
And one such thing was stalking England.
Three times had the Shropshire Slasher; a name pinned on the killer after a second victim had been found in a different village. The dead woman had been killed in the same fashion as had the first victim in the village of Shropshire. Dylan told her that the press was already in full tilt with lurid headlines like "Has Jack the Ripper Returned?"
"There is a fourth dead woman, isn't there, Dylan?" She asked him and saw his hand clench. He had known that there would be a fourth but had been unable to act as the police had not accepted his offer of help. Known there would be a fourth, known what night that woman would be raped and killed. Known how it would happen.
Known everything except where it would happen and who was killing the women.
"Yes, a body was just found in a park in Haverhill. I'm going to meet the inspector in charge of the case." He told her as he collected a light jacket and a camera and some other items from the closet.
"I am going with you, Dylan."
"Miriya, I..." She stopped him before he could say anything else.
"Dylan, I have to go with you. You said that the person who is killing these women is a mage of some type. What if he can tell that you're trying to find him? What if he's been waiting for a mage to seek him and and has already set his own magics against you? I have to go to protect you."
He tried to argue with her, to tell her that she was not ready to be among humans; not of this day and age, at any rate. The look on her face, a mixture of determination and worry, brooked no arguement, though, and he conceded.
Some twenty minutes later, they pulled up to the park. A policeman met them and led them down the path to where the murder scene lay. Miriya glanced around at all the whirling red and blue lights and the sudden bright flashes from what Dylan had told her were cameras. As they came up to a strip of yellow ribbon that warded the area against unwanted intruders, a man who appeared to be older and heavier than her Master came up to meet them.
"Ah, Sir Willam," The man spoke, and it took Miriya a moment to recall that her Master was known to these men as 'Sir Willam Camwyn,' "Prompt as always. Though I see you've brought along someone." The look the man gave her made her take an instant dislike to the man.
"Inspector Burbidge," Dylan/Willam spoke, taking the man's hand in a firm shake, "May I introduce an associate of mine from Montreal? Maria, this is Inspector Michael Burbidge of Scotland Yard. Inspector, this is Maria Nettier of the RCMP." She offered her hand to him, quickly giving a bit more concentration to the glamourie she wore.
"A mountie, eh? Always get your man and such," She was really starting to detest the man. However, since Dylan told her that he was an honest man and a good detective despite some crude manners, and he was the inspector in charge of Scotland Yard's investigation of the killer, Miriya kept that dislike from appearing on her face.
"Mais oui, Monsieur Inspector," She replied with a charming smile. "Sir Willam, 'e 'as spoken quite 'ighly of you. I 'ope that we can 'elp you capture this 'orrible man." On the way to the scene, Dylan had quickly drilled her on her cover; she was an officer of the law from a different country and had known him from some investigations he had performed there ("don't worry," he had told her, "They won't ask about them, so you don't need to know any of them,") English was a second language to her, and a poor one at that since French was her native language. In their studies together, Dylan had discovered that she had a gift for mimicing accents and mannerisms from the shows and movies she had watched on the television. She would provide a distraction to the police so that he could do some magical checking of the murder without their knowledge ("They don't know I'm a mage, and I aim to keep it that way")
>From the number of people now looking at her and not at what lay beyond that yellow warding line, she decided that the distraction must be working.
"Ahem, Inspector?" 'Willam' tapped the man on the shoulder as 'Maria' gave him one more dazzling smile, "Shall we see about the victim?"
"Er, yes, yes; let's." He led them beyond the ward and Miriya wondered what power that line had that could keep people out; there was no tingle of magic and very little actual barrier. Yet most of the people stood on one side of that ribbon while only a handful, and they all 'policemen' within. The stench was horrible enough to draw her attention away from all the strange lights and other noises. When she saw the body of the woman spread atop the rock, she decided that she could still serve as a distraction while remaining near the ward.
"Near as we can determine," Burbidge explained, "She was killed three nights ago."
Dylan examined the scene with all his senses; holding his loathing and dread inside so that he could work. "Same method as the others?"
"Yes. The killer darted her with a poison that paralysed her muscles. That alone would have made her suffocate in a matter of minutes. But he carried her to this slab from that space over there. Then he cut off her clothing and raped her while he mutiliated her. Then he cut out her heart."
The inspector said it matter-of-factly, though Dylan knew the man felt at least as revulsed as he himself did. But, to the other man, it was a cut and dried case of rape and murder; if albeit a more gruesome one. To Dylan, though, and his magical senses, there was an entirely seperate level to it. He could still feel and nearly taste the terror the woman had felt; the killer had toyed with her, playing on her fears to bring her to a state of panic. Then he had trapped her within her own body with his poisons (he would get the autopsy reports later, but he suspected either curare, croton oil or a combination of those and possibly others) Finally, the killer ritualistically raped her, using a knife to carve arcane sigils into her flesh before finally sacrificing her.
The killer was gathering power from the women he killed. Of that much, Dylan was certain. But there had been no reports of flagrant uses of magic anywhere in England; let alone any of the places where the killer had so far claimed a victim. That meant he must be storing the energies for something else. The locations were a part of it; a pattern of some sorts.
If he could only determine that pattern.
Miriya watched him move about the stone where the murdered woman lay; now stooping down to get a closer look at some markings on the stone, then taking a camera from his coat's pocket and making it flash its light as were other such devices. The moon had made much of its dance across the sky when Dylan came back over to where she now stood. She had made her own circuit of the body, using the camera Dylan had given her ("Just look through the little window on the back and point it so you can see what you're looking for, then push that little button on the top.")
"I think we've seen all we need to, Inspector; thank you." Dylan told the man, shaking his hand once more. Miriya simply gave him one more smile. "I'd appreciate it if you could arrange for me to be able to get pictures and information taken from the other sites."
"Yes, Sir Willam. Will you be coming to London to get them or should I send them via post?"
"The Post will do. Here's my address," Dylan gave him a small card. A few more pleasantries were exchanged, forced given the nature of the location, and they left for Dylan's home.
spent sleeping, and several showers and scrubbings later, Miriya felt more like herself once again; she had felt as if the stench of that place would never leave her and marveled all the more at how unaffected Dylan seemed. Of course, Dylan also hadn't had to contend with several offers of dinner, and other things, from the various policemen.
"It always hits me hard, dear," He told her later, "but I cannot let it show. If I let the pain and fear and all the other things show, I'd never be able to find and stop the ones that cause it."
The Post had delivered all the things Dylan had requested while she had been asleep, she saw. Four boxes, one for each of the victims; each filled with pictures, descriptions of the scenes, and several other things. Already some of the pictures and printouts and reports cluttered a table in one room.
Over the next few days, Miriya worried that he was not sleeping like he should; staying up for many hours to finally almost drag himself to bed. Only to get up only two or three hours later and do it all again. A map adorned one wall and pushpins showed the locations where the four women had been killed and a sheet of tracing paper overlay that; traceries of lines that depicted an arcane symbol was being matched against the sites. This one, like all the others tried so far, did not match.
"He's gathering power; storing it for something," Dylan muttered to himself. "That can be the only thing he's doing with all that power. But how, what and why?"
Miriya could not give him any answers much as she wished to. She fixed food for him that went largely neglected. She try to rub his shoulders and back in an attempt to get him to relax and he would simply shrug her off and go back to pouring over the papers and pictures. He was never mean to her, never raised his voice in anger against her; his prodigious attention and concentration was simply focused on the matter at hand.
It went that way for over a week and Miriya was starting to feel very tired and weak herself as she had not slept in all that time; she remained awake so that she could serve him and take care of him since his focus was making him neglect caring for himself. Seemingly hundreds of sheets of paper littlered the floor and were piled in the corners of the room. Dylan had been staring between the same three pieces of paper for nearly two hours and Miriya decided something had to be done. First, she removed the jeans and T-shirt that had come to be her normal attire in the house; it was much more practical and, she admitted to herself, more comfortable than the gypsy attire she had worn her entire time as Mistress Saamiel's slave. Naked, she started to gather up some of the papers that had lain unused for several days. That went on for an hour and Dylan never noticed.
"Hmmmph!" She fumed. She had gotten used to his desire not to have sex with her; even if she did not completely understand his reasons for that. But to so totally ignore her when she was unlcothed? She giggled at what Inspector Burbidge and the other police would think of that. They had certainly not ignored her, and she had been wearing much more than jeans and T-shirt that evening! But that thought did not help with a Master who was intent on wearing himself out. So, she took a page from Tut's book and leaped up onto the table and sat down right in front of him.
Dylan instinctively reached out with a hand to gently brush the cat out of the way of his work and only when the cat not only refused to budge, but seemed to have gained a considerable amount of mass and size, did he look past the paper in his hand.
"Miriya, would you mind getting off of the table?"
"Dylan, I will not get off this table until you tell me what I'm wearing."
"Hmmmm...child, I really don't have time for this game."
"This is no game, Dylan. What am I wearing."
He looked up, blinked twice, then looked back down at a report, "You're not wearing anything. Now, would you please get off the table?"
"Dylan, listen to me for a moment, please? Not only am I not wearing anything, but I've not been wearing anything for quite a while now. And you haven't noticed! Dylan, you're focusing too much on this work. You're so focused you're distracted by not being able to be distracted."
"Miriya, you're not making any sense..." His statement was interupted by a yawn and then he realised that she was right. Nothing was making any sense right now and trying to force it to do so would not make it comply. He chuckled as she stuck her tongue out at him then nodded.
"You're right, Dear. I'm too wound up with all this. There has to be an answer but I'm just too worn out to find it now. You win, I'll go get some sleep. Some real sleep."
"You'd better, Master," She told him in a slightly mocking tone, smiling as she slid off the table to hug him from behind, "If anyone can solve this, it will be you. But you need rest. Just be glad you finally noticed when you did. Next, I would have gotten some of those toys you bought me. One way or another, I was going to break your concentration!"
"You wouldn't have...no, wait...you would have, wouldn't you?" At her nod, he sighed, "If I hadn't noticed by then, I wouldn't have been focused, I would have been dead. And I've made you worry too much about me already. I'll go to bed and you get some rest, too."
"I will, but the sun won't be up for a few hours yet. May I clean some of this up before we lose a room to all this clutter?"
He nodded, yawning once again, "Just the stuff along the walls, Miriya; leave the tabletop alone, please. Goodnight, Dear."
He left the room and she soon heard the sound of his soft snores. She chuckled as she gathered up some of the old tracing papers; he was so tired, she doubted he had even removed his clothing or got under the covers. Just a crash landing atop his bed...
Her musings were cut short as she picked up one more piece of tracing paper then she stopped abruptly as she turned away and caught her reflection in the mirror on the opposite wall.
She shivered with sudden dread glancing at the reversed image. Slowly, she held the paper up against the map; still with the paper reversed from how Dylan had drawn the symbol.
She did not know what the symbol was but she could feel the power inherent in it; power that grew when she held it up against the points on the map.
She stood that way for several minutes, at war with herself. Dylan had to know; but did he have to know now? Could she not let him get his sleep? Would he be upset if she woke him up now? She had not even put her clothes back on yet.
There was nothing for it...
"Dylan! Dylan! Wake up!" She called as she ran for his room.
"Nnnnhhhhh...Miriya, this had better not be about Martians again..." He mumbled as she shook him awake.
"No, No! I found it! I found the pattern!"
He beat her back to the room.
She explained what she had been doing and that she had happened to look up at the mirror as she was holding the tracing paper. Dylan looked at it and held it up to the map. Just a bit of a turn, and the murder sites hit four points of the of the lines of the symbol. He started laughing, lightly at first then a deep bellylaugh.
"All that time...And she just picks up the trash! Miriya, you are an absolute, utter genius!"
He swept her up in a hug, kissing her. It was only when she started kissing him back that he stopped, blushing a deep crimson.
"Don't be, Dylan. You know how I feel about it." She tried to reassure him. She knew that what that kiss could lead to would definitely take his mind off the case at hand. Then she felt guilty. Much as she wanted to lay with him, this was not the time for her to press the issue. "But I'm at fault more than you. As much as I want this, this isn't the time for it."
"Miriya, you amaze me. I care for you very much. And, yes, I love you. But I just...cannot...love you that way. Not yet, at any rate."
She kissed his cheek, smiling to him. "I know. I am starting to understand. Just as this time is so different than what I knew, you are a much different Master. I know you are uncomfortable with me thinking that way, but that is part of what I am. You've taught me so much these past months, showed me not only new ways to think, but also to simply think for myself. But I am still a creation that was built to serve. I could do far worse than to belong to you."
"I-I don't know just what to say, Miriya. But part of why I cannot love you that way is because of what you are. For all that you are, for all that you've done, you are still an innocent. I feel like I'd be taking advantage of that innocense."
He sighed, then yawned, "Miriya, it's an old argument between us and I think we're both too tired to engage in it right now. You found the pattern I was trying to get; that will solve half of this case and I thank you deeply for that. The rest can keep for a few hours while we both sleep for a while. A pair of fresh minds should be able to solve the rest in a short while."
She nodded, "That's what I felt a bit earlier. I almost didn't wake you up; I thought it could keep until morning. But then I worried that I might get careless and become sunstruck. And you might let me sleep for a day or more and then you might never have found out what I discovered. But sleep does sound good. As for how we feel; it has kept this long, it can keep a while longer. Especially after you bought those..."
Be blushed then chuckled, "It's a stopgap measure, I know. Though I think it's helped you, hasn't it?" She nodded, and he kissed her good night, "Sleep well, dear. You are a treasure and I'm glad you've entered my life."
"You sleep well, too, Dylan. Let your mind relax and renew itself in dreams."
They parted in the hallway; he to his room and she to hers. She went to the window and opened the drapes and the window, letting a cooling breeze enter. She started to remove her jeans then laughed lightly as she realised she had never put them back on after she had distracted Dylan earlier.
"I'm getting as bad as he is!"
She walked over to the dresser and took one of her playthings from the top drawer. It was a simple vibrator, a bit longer than her hand. Dylan had given that, and others, to her nearly a month before and hen explained to her that it was alright for her to give pleasure to herself when she felt like it; at least when she was alone.
She lay back on the bed and gave the base of the vibrator the small twist it needed to wake it up and make it quiver in her hands. She sighed softly in pleasure as she brought the end of it to play lighlty against her nether lips and the tiny bud of her clit. Dylan said he would not, could not make love to her, but that could not, would not stop her from dreaming that the vibrator in her hands was his penis; teasing her, giving her pleasure even as she gave it back to him.
The vibrator slid over the glistening folds of her sex and she could feel Dylan's hands caressing her skin. Hands that could wield the power of magic worked a different magic now. A voice that could speak the words of power now uttered words of love breathily against her ears and over her flesh. His body was atop hers as she plunged the vibrator into her depths. She danced beneath his phantom weight, crying out softly in pleasure; squeezing his member within her velvety folds. In and out, her phantom lover, her Master, pumped. Slowly at first, then with increasing urgency as false dawn started to brighten the landscape.
She shivered and moaned, calling out his name softly; one hand making the device do its dance in and out of her, the other hand clenching and unclenching the covers as invisible, intangible hands caressed and teased and pleased. The pressures of pleasure grew and grew within her, at first begging for release, then demanding it.
She arched her back high, giving in to her passions and letting her climax sweep over her as the sun rose. Its warm rays swept over her and the glamourie she wore, now out of habit, was washed away; revealing the almost scale-like pattern of her wooden skin. The warmth of the sunlight was matched by the warmth of orgasm within her. And, as the sun stole away her vitality, her vibrancy, her life, that orgasmic warmth filled the void that the sun created.
And the wooden marionette slept soundly and dreamlessly.
"Love me, Master."
She had come to him in his sleep once again. And, once again, she was naked; moonlight glistening on her glossy, wooden skin. She slid into bed, pressing close to him and he did not resist her. He marveled at how something as hard as wood could be so soft and yielding as his hands massaged her breasts; her nipples rubbery beneath his thumbs. Her lips tasted sweet as he kissed them and she moaned softly as his kisses trailed down her chin to her throat. He sat up, taking her into his lap; his erection rubbing teasingly against her wooden sex. Dylan's kisses trailed further downward, sliding into the cleft between her breasts then took the left nipple between his teeth. He could feel her back arch as he teased her. Her body was warm and soft and inviting; everything he could ever dream or desire in a woman. And that warmth was intoxicating to his senses.
He rose from the bed, laying her out upon the matress. She writhed in anticipation as he massaged and rubbed her body with his hands, teased her moist slit with his manhood. With a grunt, he thrust into her...
...And a fountain of fire erupted from her mouth...
He sat bolt upright in his bed, clammy with his sweat. The dream had been frighteningly vivid; right up to the point where Miriya burst into flames from the inside out. And he could still hear that bitter, mocking laughter as the girl burned.
He rose from the bed, shaking and weak; his breath coming in hard, rasping breaths. There was no way she could know about Miriya; was there? It did not feel like a sent dream, not like those he had felt in the past. No, this was from his own subconscious.
If he dared to love her, Miriya would be taken from him...
Just as Katherine had been...
How he managed to make the long walk of a dozen feet or so from his bed to the shower, he could not recall. But the water that sluiced away the stink of sweat from his body; slowly bringing some sense back into him. Several long minutes beneath the massaging water relaxed clenching muscles and, almost, served in stead of the lost hours of sleep. A look in the mirror showed a portly man of nearly thirty years. While there was muscle to him it was hidden beneath some fat; one of many things about him that made him unpredictable. That and his ability in magic.
Not that it had kept him completely safe. The reflection showed the wounds he had received in what he considered his "line of duty." Three scars that were from bullet wounds; five others from various blades, one of which was still pink and only recently healed. That one had come from a sword slash just days before he had met Miriya that fateful night. The toll was being taken on his flesh.
What right did he have to get Miriya involved in things like this?
She was an innocent. Not her fault that she was lost to time after her creatrix was killed and came awake again in this day and age where magic was an art largely forgotten and relegated to legend and stories. While there were a handful of mages like him, who used their skills to protect people, most who still had the powers were either unaware of them...
...or used them to gain more power for themselves at the peril of others.
People such as the Shropshire Slasher.
People such as Maeve.
The latter was a problem for another time. Miriya had given him the key to start to unlock the Slasher's motives and secrets.
The sun was well up when he returned to his study; a large book under his arm. This was something best done while Miriya was still asleep, he felt. The book sat with a solidity seemingly beyond even its large size; suggestive of the power it held bound within it. Some softly spoken words, and the clasp glowed for a second then parted; unsealing the wards he had placed on the tome. He did not like having to use this book; knew he'd be taking another shower once he was done with it to wash away the distaste it left on him.
Some hours later, as the sun was setting, he found what he needed in it. The symbol the Slasher was using. While the places where the women had been killed matched some of the symbol's points, they did not directly connect and that puzzled him until he found the description of the rites used in relation to the symbol. An hour or so later, he had some ideas on what was being done.
Time for some confirmation.
"Good evening, Scotland Yard."
"Yes, this is Sir Willam Camwyn, might I have records, please?" He waited on hold as he was transfered. "Yes, Sir Willam Camwyn here; I'm attached to the case that Inspector Burbidge is heading...yes, yes, that one. I need some information, if you please. Could you fax me copies of any reports of criminal activities in the following towns on or around the following nights?"
He spoke a list of four cities and four different nights, then thanked the woman on the other end of the line as she told him he would have anything that could be found within the next few hours.
Part of him hoped this would give him the information he needed as to the killer's ultimate motive and another part sincerely hoped that it did not; for that ultimate motive was a frightening thought.
It was nearly midnight when the faxes came in and he read through them as he ate some dinner. It was a few nights before the new moon yet, so he still had a couple hours before moonlight would awaken Miriya. By then, he hoped to have any lingering fears over his earlier dream well hidden if not exactly forgotten. She was a part of this now, and she deserved to know what he had managed to learn while she had slept.
He walked into her room, a quick glance to where she lay then a deliberate looking away from her form as he made certain that her drapes were open and the moonlight would be able to find her. It was easy to not look at her; far harder to ignore the sound of the vibrator whose batteries still possessed life.
This time, it would be a cold shower.
Miriya found him at the table once more after she had awakened and refreshed herself.
"Did you sleep well?" He asked her.
"Like a log," She responded, chuckling more at the look he gave her than her own statement. "So, just what have you been able to figure out?"
"Quite a bit, actually. See how this pattern is? The murder sites match up, but on seperate lines. I was wondering how he was using them, so I had the Yard check on any activities in the towns where the other ends of the lines were.
"Sure enough, at each of the towns, apparently on the night of the full moon, our suspect, whoever he is, had visited and vandalised parks similar to where he killed his victims. He's collecting the power at one place, and he must be using at least some of that power to make an anchor for the lines of force that make up the pattern. See that book over there?"
She nodded, "Yes...what is it? It almost feels slimy!"
"That is an actual copy of the Necronomicon; not one of my favourite books but one that was necessary to use in this case. The symbol is one used for summoning."
"Summoning? As in summoning...demons?" Her voice got very soft and he saw her take a step back from the book, glancing warily at the object.
"At the size he's trying to do this, if it was possible at all, he'd nearly be able to summon one of the Old Gods...very powerful demons, Miriya. But there's no way he could gather enough power to fuel a summoning circle as large as this; he's covered most of England."
"Then what would come through?"
"He has to be trying to call one of the Old Gods, the symbols he's scribed on his victims and the the ones drawn where he's been vandalising instead of murdering are the proper ones for that. But he is trying to fuel too large a circle of power. Nothing as powerful as a major demon is going to appear at his beck and call.
"But," He continued, and he seemed to look as ill as Miriya suddenly felt, "The Lady only knows what manner of minor powers might manage to break through the barriers his actions will weaken if we let him kill one more person; that one would be the last one and bind the entire pattern."
"That would be bad?"
Dylan chuckled, "Shall we say that we'd probably be better off if your Martians invaded?"
Miriya pondered that briefly, "...Oh."
He smiled at her, "But we have something our foe doesn't know about. We know where the next point will be and we've two days yet to set a trap for him there. I'm going to call Inspector Burbidge in the morning and fill him in. Then we'll see about laying a trap for him...here!" He poked his index finger down on the map of England.
Two nights later found the Inspector, Sir Willam and Madamoiselle Nettier and a dozen policemen hidden about in the mist-shrouded park of a village near Bristol. The overcast sky blocked any view of the stars and the tension of waiting was setting many sets of nerves on edge.
"You had better be right about this, Sir Willam," Inspector Burbidge said, seemingly for the tenth time. "Haring off on a bloody wild goose chase if you ask me. What do a bunch of vandalisms have to do with the killer?"
"If I told you," Dylan responded, "you would never believe me. Something will happen here; tonight. And it will either be caused by our killer or it will be linked to him."
"And just why are neither of you fidgeting about?" Burbidge asked, mostly towards Miriya. "I know Sir Willam doesn't have a bit of nerves in his body; he'd ask you politely to put him out if you set him on fire. But I'd think you'd be on pins and needles out here in these woods."
She laughed lightly, and answered with her French accented voice, "Monsieur Inspector, I was born in ze woods and lived in zem for many years. Oui, I live in Montreal, but my 'eart it lives in the woods. Zere is no terror for me 'ere."
"Bloody marvelous... Just where did you manage to meet her, Sir William?"
"Oh, I happened to run into her near a church a little while back."
Burbidge was about to respond to that when Miriya hushed them both, "Someone comes."
All was silent then, save for the chirps and songs of the night creatures; then the sound of feet crunching lightly on the damp grass could be heard. The footfalls went on for a few moments then stopped and a rattling noise could be heard. Some faint hisses followed and Dylan tapped Burbidge on his shoulder; nearly making him jump out of his overcoat. Then Burbidge double-tapped the key on his walkie-talkie; the stutter that would be heard on the policemen's units was the key to spring the trap.
At the same time, from six different directions, handheld floodlights blazed to life and swepted quickly back and forth for a second or two before they homed in on a lone figure standing near a large boulder.
"This is the Police! Drop what you are holding and raise your hands so we can see them!"
The figure was slow to respond, twisting about as though confused by the sudden glares. Six policemen raced out towards the solitary figure; shadowy in the glowing mist. Three more figures approached from a point between two of the lights.
"I didn't do nothing, honest!" The person in the middle of the cried out, finally raising his hands as he could see the gleam of light from six diffent gun barrels; while the police usually went unarmed, the circumstances of the case merited the use of sidearms.
Dylan stooped down and picked up a can of spray paint and a sheet of paper with gloved hands, "And I suppose marking defenseless rock with paint as nothing?"
Without much more preamble, the captured man was herded into a police van and taken to the station.
"What do you bloody mean he isn't our bloody man!" Burbidge was not in a good mood and Dylan weathered the storm of his ire.
"It isn't him. He's been in contact with the killer; that's who gave him the paint can and the paper with what to draw. But that's all he is."
"And you know this how?" He wasn't going to be easily swayed. He had worked with Sir Willam in the past and gotten the same type of runaround answers before. "I saw you and the dollybird take him away to a private room for an hour or so; then she leaves, and you come out with the suspect after another hour. And you aren't going to tell me a bloody thing except he isn't the killer?"
Dylan was not about to tell him that Miss Nettier had to get back to the suite they had rented in Bristol before the sun rose or else risking exposing who and what she really was; that would lead to no end of questions. "She has another case that requires her presence, Inspector. As for Jimmy Granger, he's a local kid that someone, our real suspect, paid fifty pounds to do a specific bit of vandalism with some paint that he provided at that specific place at that specific time. Nothing more, nothing less. This act and similar ones that have happened are all linked to the killer; part of his overall plan, Inspector. Part of the pattern he is following. I had hoped that he would be doing these things himself, as well as the murders, and that we'd be able to catch him. However, at least this time, he was using a proxy.
"What worries me is if this means he knows we're onto him or is it simply how he's been operating all along?"
"And what worries me is that you are wasting all our time with something you claim is part of the murder case and all I see is that you got lucky and predicted a bit of teenage hooliganism."
"Inspector?" Dylan asked him, "Do you dream? Do you have nightmares? Do you see the bodies of the women this man has killed? What about other murder victims you have seen? Do you want that to continue? One more victim? And another one? And still more?" His voice remained calm, nearly distracted in tone and that tone chilled the other man deeply.
"Yes, all we caught is a vandal. But we know where the killer has been and we know for certain where he will be two weeks from tonight. And it will be him there. He may be using proxies for the vandalisms he's organised, but you know as well as I do that only one man has been committing the murders. Two weeks from now, on the night of the full moon, the killer will strike back in Shropshire; at the very place the first woman was killed three and a half months ago."
"And you've a crystal ball that tells you all this?" Burbidge was shaken but he'd be damned if he was going to let this...amateur Sherlock Holmes... have the last word.
Dylan stopped for just a moment as he stepped out of the door into the early dawn. He gave Burbidge a smile that would do the Mona Lisa proud, "Not quite, Inspector. Good day."
Two weeks of preperations and planning and it came down to tonight. Dylan had been able to feel the power that the killer had invested into the can of spraypaint that the boy had been using; and he had gone back to the park after leaving Burbidge and used some of his own magics to make certain that the powers that the killer wished to invest in that location had not taken root; and also to mask that fact so that it seemed as though the ritual had proceded apace. Now, he hid behind bushes while Miriya was walking along the pathway several yards away.
He still could barely believe she had persuaded him to let her act as bait...
"Dylan, you know when he's going to strike. You know where he's going to strike. And you know how he's going to strike. But do you know who his victim will be?" She had picked the only open link in the chain. The killer's victims had all be active, though in different ways. Healthy, athletic if not athletes themselves, vibrant.
Full of power.
"Dylan, look at me. No, LOOK at me! I fit the profile, don't I?" He had to admit that she more than fit it; she had an aura that even those without the ability to detect magic could feel. Eyes followed her whenever she moved, both times with the police had proven that beyond doubt. "I can do this. His poisons won't work on me. I can play the part; let him catch me and think me helpless. That will keep him busy so that you can capture him."
The argument had gone on for days; the only time he had truly raised his voice in anger at her. And he regretted it afterwards. Finally, he had relented; not to silence her but because she was absolutely right. Even if the killer had his victims picked out before hand, Miriya's presence would change that decision.
So he had helped her as he could; working some changes to her glamourie that further hid the true magics that powered her while making her aura appear to be nova-bright with pent up magical power. He had taught her some of what he knew of hand to hand fighting in case she had to resist more directly; and she surpised him yet again with moves that she said she had learned from watching martial arts movies. He had also given her quick lessons in cardio-pulminary resusitation; in case she needed to use it on him after he confronted the killer.
"Miriya, you've seen the scars on my body; you know how dangerous magic can be. We have to stop him, and that is paramount. Either of us or both of us could be hurt very badly; possibly even die. I'm prepared to give my life if need be; though I'd just as soon live to a ripe old age, thank you very much..."
So, he hid and she blazed away on the path. She was just strolling along as though it were daylight and not almost midnight. While the sky above was clear with the full moon shining brightly down, mist was slowly starting to collect and obscure vision.
It had to be tonight! Dylan could feel the flows of magic growing stronger in the area; gathering as though in anticipation of being used. Miriya was rounding a curve, nearly out of sight, and he shifted position as quietly as possible to try to keep her visible to him location.
She was scared but did her best to hide the fact from Dylan. She, too, could feel the build-up of power and it made her want to run. It would be soon; it had to be soon...
She heard more than felt the tiny dart strike her neck; stick into the wooden skin. Now, she did run; if only for several seconds before she tumbled to the ground in a very good imitation of the paralysing muscle spasms that the victims had suffered. She lay there, pretending to gasp for a breath that did not want to come, as a figure loomed over her. She was stiff in his arms as he picked her up and carried her...
Dylan heard Miriya start to run, ducking lower to make certain that he was not seen. He breathed a quick, quiet prayer to the Lady that Miriya would be safe; that he would be swift enough to capture the killer before could be harmed...
Only after he could hear the killer moving away did he start moving slowly in the same direction; careful to avoid snapping twigs or otherwise giving himself away with a sudden noise.
She could feel her body being laid down upon a smooth-surfaced stone and she mumbled an attempted scream as he pulled her arms and legs out and tied her spread eagle. She tried to see his face but he was wearing a mask.
It took all her will not to scream as loud as she could when she could feel the cold metal of the knife starting to cut through her clothing.
"Stop right where you are!"
It was Master! He had found where she had been taken! She wanted to cry out in joy but now held her peace so that the truth of her ability to move still would serve as a surprise to aid Dylan.
"You! You will not stop me! I will not be denied the power the Ancient Ones have promised me!"
The figure turned towards Dylan, brandishing the knife. Miriya chose the distraction to start to work at the ropes, twisting and turning her arms and legs to slip the loose loops of rope that held her. One arm won free, then the other as she heard the man that faced her Master cry out with loud curses. She looked up to see the moon-silvered blade slash crossways and drive Dylan back a step.
The knife was daunting, but only a minor obstacle. Dylan danced quickly back then drove forward before his foe could recover and make a return sweep of the blade. He felt the blade bite into his left arm even as that arm twisted about to grab the man's right. The twist went further levering the arm painfully on the elbow and the knife dropped to the ground.
"Surrender now, you cannot win," Dylan told him.
"Blind fool! The Ancient Ones have given me power! I'll devour your soul then take the girl and summon my masters!"
Dylan could feel the stomach-churning wrenching that mean that his oppenant had taken the battle into the spirit plane...
Just as he had hoped...
His astral body blazed with light as his mind was freed of the confines of his body. No longer the portly man that was his physical self, his astral self manifested gleaming silver armor of tightly woven chainmail and a slender longsword was in his mailed fist.
"So, you hide behind illusions?" The question seemed to come from all around him and he turned a cautious circle to keep his guard up. There! That was the centre of the other's manifestation!
"Who hides, shadow-dweller? Come face me if you dare!" He slashed with the sword, arcs of light flashing off the blade and flying into the darkness. A roar of pain echoed out and the form of his foe appeared.
It was enormous, easy five times his height and more than that his girth. Seemingly hundreds of thick, ropelike tendrils waved about, some lashing out at him. These he either cut at with his sword or ducked, danced and twisted away from.
"Your Lady holds no power here!" The monster bellowed, "You are mine!" Still more of the tendrils lashed out and again he danced and cut. Several of the thing's limbs fell away, evaporating into vile-smelling smoke, yet still more came.
An overwhelming flood and soon he was trapped up in them. He felt himself being lifted up and could feel a tugging at his back. He risked a glance backwards and could just make out the thin, silvery strand of life-essence that linked his spirit and physical selves together. Should that be severed, he would be lost...
Even as he had that thought, Dylan forced it aside and refocused his attentions on the creature that held him. Even as he was bound his body, so, too, was this creature bound to the killer's physical form. He had to find it; sever it...
Miriya managed to free both her arms and sat up to get her legs loose. She could see her Master and the killer locked together but motionless. The flaring of power between them told her that the battle had gone into the realm where magics were the most powerful. She would not be able to help Dylan there, but she might be able to do something in the physical realm to help him...
Dylan struggled, willing his armor to remanifest as a myriad razor sharp edges. The monster screamed as his prey's twisting dug those blades into its many limbs but did not release it's iron grasp. Slowly, inexorably, Dylan was pulled closer and closer. Shortly, the sharp edges of the armor were twisted and torn asunder, blunting them and making them useless.
"You are mineeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
The beast screamed out in rage and pain, dropping Dylan. He hit the ground and rolled, coming up in a crouch and facing the beast once again.
She must have done something on the Outside to cause this!
"Bright Lady, let this count!" He raced forward, the sword sending blazing crescents of light slashing into the monster before him. Chunks flew away from the light-blades as woodchips from a woodcutter's axe. Dylan drove onward, digging deep within the beast. The silver cord was nowhere to be found on the outside of the thing's body. That only left one direction.
Silver-armoured warrior and flashing blade plunged deeper, cutting an ichor-dripping tunnel within the monstrous bulk. There it was! Silver, though a sickly, pulsating glimmer, stood the strand that bound the monstrous mind to the killer's body.
The silver blade slashed, striking the cord.
Untethered from the body that housed it, the monstrosity quickly began to wither away.
"Masters! You promised me! You said the Power would be mine!"
"The dark ones promise, beast," The warrior said, "but, as long as I draw breath, they will never deliver."
By the time he had finished speaking, nothing was left of the creature save a quickly fading stench.
Dylan knelt on the astral field, head bowed over his sword, "My thanks to you, Bright Lady, Guardian of my family, for the strength to defeat this evil."
"My thanks to you, Dylan apDaffyd Gwydion, for ridding this scourge. Now, return and take the rest you have earned."
"Thank you, My Lady."
"Dylan? Master, wake up! Please!"
A cool hand was lightly slapping his cheeks, rousing him, "Miriya?"
"Yes," She nodded, her jade eyes glimmering in the moonlight. "I feared that you were dead, Master."
"It would take more than a mind-demon to kill me, Dear. But thank you for the help. Whatever you did out here hurt him badly enough to affect him tremendously on the spirit plane. Just what did you do, anyway?"
"I kicked him," She giggled. She did not have to explain further to him.
"Let's go home, Miriya." Dylan got to his feet with her help. "The police can take care of the rest of this; he's not going to be killing anyone else..."
"...And, in other news," The BBC reporter continued,"The body that was found in the Shropshire Commons over two weeks ago has been identified as having been Andrew Leffington of Stoke-on-Trent. Furthermore, tissue samples taken during autopsy confirm that he was the perpetrator of the murders attributed to the Shropshire Slasher. The autopsy also shows that Mister Leffington died of massive damage to the brain tissue; however, the only external injuries he appeared to have suffered were some light brusing of the right arm and severe bruising of the groin.
"After these messages, we'll be back with the weekend weather outlook..."