The Light At The End Of The Tunnel
rating: +39+x

It wasn't working, he realized, as the statuesque woman ran the tip of her finger along the fake incision on his skin and licked the fake blood off with a seductive purr. He sighed, shook his head, and growled out the word, "Holocaust," through the bit in his teeth.

The woman immediately stopped moaning and stood up straight, concern in her ice-blue eyes. "Are you okay, sweetie?" she asked.

"I'm fine," he said. "I'm just not feeling it today."

"It's okay, hon. Let's call it for today. Call me when you're ready to go again."

"I will," he lied.

He paid the woman in cash and watched her drive away down the winding country road, sipping his tea and touching his stomach where she had run the stage knife over his bare skin, leaving behind a thin line of fake blood. It wasn't her fault she couldn't give him what he wanted. No professional was going to do actual bloodplay in this day and age, not with the threat of HIV ever-present. But even the most convincing play was simply that… a shadow of the truth.

He wondered if that was how She felt.

She was sitting on a large rock in the backyard when he came downstairs, running a fine-toothed steel comb through Her tangled black hair, picking fleas out when they got caught between the narrow tines and crushing them between Her thumb and forefinger. She was rail-thin and rangy-looking, Her ribs visible through Her taut skin, Her yellow eyes feral and cruel, Her too-wide mouth crooked upwards, revealing the white tips of Her sharp canine teeth. The decapitated remnants of a dead hare were scattered here and there.

"Did you have a good hunt?" Sol asked.

"I did. It has been a long time," She replied. "Fresh blood tastes best. But is it safe to hunt so close to my former captors?"

"Who said you were anywhere near them?" Sol laughed. "We're halfway around the world from that place. You're perfectly safe for the time being."

"I don't remember any planes," She pointed out. "And I somehow doubt that you could drive all the way across the world in a few short minutes."

"You'd be right about that… assuming you were taking the long way. It so happens that I know a few shortcuts."

"Interesting. Tell me more."

"In due time, my lady. In due time. For now you must focus on regaining your strength and re-honing your skills. You are like a blade allowed to rust in darkness. You must be polished, sharpened, and remade anew."

Her ears twitched, and She grinned. "If you say so," She purred.

"I do say so. You are a sublime creature of legend. I would have the others see you in your full glory, rather than as this wretched creature that the Worldwide Global Conspiracy has reduced you to. So for now, rest, my lady, and grow strong and beautiful. The day of reckoning will come soon enough."

He kissed the back of her hand and walked back into the house. She waited until he was gone before picking up the severed head of the hare and hurling it into the woods in a fit of pique. She longed to follow him into the house and paint the ceiling and walls with his guts, but if there was one thing Her long captivity had taught Her, it was patience. Good things came to those who waited.


"Oh lord, give me the serenity to accept what I cannot change, the courage to change what I can, and the patience not to punch that asshole in the face for being a sententious prick," Sandra recited.

"Try to be nice. He's technically our ally," Michel said.

"Ally my ass, he's a loose cannon. If I thought I could get away with it…"

"Hush, Sandra," the Professor said. "We're here."

Every time James came to the Teacher's home, he felt like he was stepping into Narnia. The old country manor looked like something straight out of an Edward Gorey illustration, with its tall picture windows and dilapidated clock tower, and the forest behind it swept out as far as the eye could see: dark, mysterious, and overgrown. The entire place radiated a sense of adventure, tradition, and mysticism that never failed to make him shiver with excitement.

He'd tried to say as much to Sandra once. "I know," she'd agreed, "If he bothered to spend a little time and money to fix up the clock tower, renovate the house, and prune the trees back a bit, the place would be worth something. Lazy bastard." After that, James decided to keep his opinions to himself.

The door opened as the four of them approached, and James heard Sandra breathe in sharply, followed by a, "What the fuck?" from Michel. Sol was standing in the doorway dressed in some kind of insane gold-brocaded robe with massive sleeves, smiling and nodding to his guests. "Come in," he said. "Dinner will be served shortly."

The walls of the front hall were hung with hand-drawn screens and red silks: they tried but didn't quite succeed at covering up the portraits of English gentlemen and such that hung on the walls. A red velvet carpet had been rolled out leading from the front door into the dining room. It was grotesque. It was gaudy. It was ugly.

It was classic Sol.

"What the hell is going on here, Sol?" Sandra growled. "I don't have time for your bullshit."

"In good time, in good time, my friends. For now, I have a guest for you to meet."

"No! Fuck you!" Sandra shouted. "You'll answer my questions right now! What the fuck was up with that stupid manifesto you sent to the news stations? When we said we were going to help you with your raid, you promised us that you had everything planned out. Nothing could go wrong. Well, I've got three dead cell members and a bunch of wounded that say otherwise. And what did we get for it? Jack and SHIT. A few trinkets we could have picked up easier ourselves without getting a bunch of guys killed. I want a goddamn explanation!"

Sol's expression darkened, and he swallowed his rage hard, fists tightening. "As usual, your mercenary ways don't see the truth of what we've accomplished. We have struck a blow for freedom and liberty that will resound all around the world. We have liberated…"

"Oh, SPARE me your righteous bullshit, Sol! I want answers!"

"My apologies," a new voice said. "The master is wise indeed, but is often short in social graces."

James let out an involuntary squeak of surprise. An angel was walking into the room.

She was small in stature, and dressed in the same gaudy robes that Sol wore, but while he looked like a child playing dressup with his parents' clothing, she wore them with confidence and assurance. Her pale face was round and lovely, and her long, jet-black hair tied up in a series of tight buns. But what really drew James' attention was the pair of tapered, red-furred ears that jutted out through her jet-black locks, and the tips of nine foxlike tails peeking out from the hem of her robes. "Please," she said. "It is not proper for friends to fight. Please come inside and have dinner."

The silence was finally broken when the Professor let out a low sigh. "Solomon," he said. "What have you done?"

"I have rescued a being of myth from durance vile, and struck a blow against the Worldwide Global Conspiracy that will be felt for many years to come," Sol crowed.

Sandra's angry response was interrupted by the Professor's cutting hand gesture: very small, but enough for her to see. She clenched her teeth instead, and looked away.

"Let us by all means have dinner, then," the Professor said calmly. "I believe we have much to discuss."


"Our attack on the Enemy has borne great fruit," Sol expounded, making grandiose and voluminous gestures at the walls, the ceiling, and his bowl of rice. "Dozens of sentients cruelly held captive now taste the sweet honey of freedom. Though most are happy to simply enjoy the fresh air of liberty, they will soon answer our clarion call to join the crusade against the Worldwide Global Conspiracy that enslaves us all. Already, the first of them have joined us in our war against evil… and I have heard that one even now strikes back against the enemy on her own."

"If you mean that Vector bitch, then I don't know where you're getting your information. That crazy whore is in it for herself, not for any cause," Sandra muttered angrily.

"She strikes against the minions of the Conspiracy. Her cause and ours are the same."

"Forgive me, Sol, if I don't think that attacking an AIDS clinic and killing a bunch of sick people to steal their strains of HIV is particularly helpful in fighting the GOC."

"You are as short-sighted as usual, Sandra. Clearly you must see…"

It was always like this. Sandra and Sol would argue. Michel would sit by and watch in silence. And the Professor would just listen and then, at the right moment, make a single cutting remark that would make both Sandra and Sol realize how stupid they were being. And as for James? He just sat there, listened, and felt like a fifth wheel. It was not a comfortable feeling, and it was even more uncomfortable this time because of the presence of the Girl.

He glanced over at her, and saw her looking back. He blushed and looked down at his half-eaten plate of food, the bright colors of the vegetables and the gently bubbling soups arranged impeccably on the black laquered table. With shaking hands, he reached for his wine cup, found it empty. Almost immediately, she was there at his side, pouring him another cupful from a glass bottle.

Her hands, he noticed, were very white, and her fingers were very delicate and tipped with long, red-painted nails.

"Is your food not to your liking?" she asked, in a voice like bells in the wind. "You have barely touched it."

"It… it's fine," James stammered. He stared down at his food and picked up some kind of sliced vegetable with his chopsticks, but his hands were shaking so badly that he dropped it into his lap. She laughed, not unkindly, and placed a hand over his. "Here," she said. "Let me."

She picked up one of the small white pancakes from the center of the nine-sectioned dish and deftly placed a few sections of sliced vegetables and meats atop it. She wrapped it up with a few quick moves of her chopsticks and held it out to him in her chopsticks. James blinked in surprise, then, feeling embarassed, allowed her to feed it to him.

A loud laugh, and he suddenly realized everyone was watching him. "Is she not wonderful?" Sol said, with a wry smile. "A truly exquisite creature. And the Worldwide Global Conspiracy would keep her captive. Is her freedom not enough to justify our crusade against them?"

"Funny you should call it that, considering what happened during the Crusades," Sandra muttered.

And again, the conversation devolved back into the usual argument. But James noticed that Her yellow eyes were watching him.


In the end, they ended up staying the night.

James couldn't sleep. It was 2 am and he was laying in bed staring up at the ceiling. His mind was haunted by the image of a pair of lovely yellow eyes staring back at him, his dreams by the memory of the touch of her cool fingertips against his wrist. Though an early fall breeze cooled the room, the air seemed uncomfortably close and warm… stifling, even. He closed his eyes, and all he could see was the soft cupid's bow curve of her lips - all he could hear the ringing musical sound of her laughter.

He got up from his bed to get a drink of water, but something out of the corner of his eye caught his attention. He went to his window to get a closer look, and his breath caught in his throat.

She was sitting on a large rock in the backyard, running a lacquered tortoiseshell comb through Her long, black hair. She was slender and lovely, Her pale white skin glowing like pearl in the silver moonlight, her gleaming yellow eyes vibrant with life. A divinely lovely smile quirked her pale pink lips as flower petals cascaded down around her like snowflakes.

James swallowed hard.

He went to his door and opened it, then gave a cry of surprise. Michel, the huge, muscular Frenchman, was sitting outside his door, wrapped in a blanket, with his head cushioned by a pillow. He instantly awoke as he heard the door open. "What is it?" Michel asked.

"I was uh… just going to get a glass of water," James stammered.

Michel nodded. "Go back to your room. I'll get it for you."

"I'm not a kid, Mick. I can get my own water."

"James?" Michel said, slowly. "Go back into your room."

"Fu—" He never finished the sentence. Michel's massive fist lashed out and punched him in the jaw, knocking him out cold.

"Sorry, kid," Michel said. "I'm saving your life."


She heard the footsteps behind Her, and She smiled. It had been a long time since She had hunted man, and She was glad that She had not lost her touch. She turned towards him, letting her back arch in a carefully calculated move that framed Her face with her black hair in the most flattering manner possible… and was surprised to see the old man standing there on the garden path.

"Good evening," he said. "Lovely moon out tonight."

She smiled at him, quickly recovering from Her surprise. Though not the prey She had anticipated, She would make do with this. "It is," She admitted. lowering Her eyes in Her most demure manner, and covering Her bare shoulders with Her long flowing locks. "It reminds me of the moons of my childhood."

"You must miss them. The days of long ago. You speak of them with such nostalgia."

"It was a different time, back then," She said, letting her hair slip in a perfectly calculated manner to bare the back of Her neck. "Things were simpler. Now times have changed."

There was a short pause. "I am seventy years old," the man said. "I am not a young man driven by base lusts. Don't try to seduce me like you did James."

This was not going as She had expected. "Even a seventy year old man has needs," She purred, tossing Her hair back and letting him get a good look at Her body. "I could make you feel young agai—."

"Why do you do this?" he asked. "It demeans you to carry on like a cheap whore."

She hissed in anger, and for a moment, She lost her concentration on the illusion She was spinning. For a bare instant, he saw Her as She truly was, and the sight made him flinch in shock, but only for a moment. "Insult me again, prey-creature, and I will tear your heart out with my claws. I could kill you in an instant."

"Yes, you could," he admitted. "But what would that accomplish?"

"It would be what you deserve for doing this to me!" She snapped. "Your people have killed the Old. They have bound Myth and Legend in prisons of steel, and eradicated the things of Magic with cold science. Then you mock even our memories, perverting that which you should fear into things of lust and children's fantasies. This cannot be abided. I will NOT abide it! I will die, but I will die fighting, with my claws red with your blood and my teeth in your throat, and I will die knowing that I was feared!"

The wind blew, and carried with it the smell of rot and decay. The old man smiled. "Yes," he said. "This is the real you. This is what I was looking for."

"What are you talking about?"

"You have heard Solomon's plans?"

"Idiocy. The man thinks that he can go to war with the world and win. He is useful to me for now, but one of these days, I will taste his blood," She growled.

"Sol is… a broken man, but he is also a useful one. He has a talent for inspiring fools and martyrs, and we have need of both in these days. Go along with his plans for now," the old man said. "Help him fight his war."

"Why? It is doomed to fail. He has no subtlety. He will push and push, and when he pushes too far, they will strike back with all their might, and destroy him."

"Yes," the old man said. "That is exactly what we want."

He spoke to her then of plans, of plans within plans, of war and betrayal, and of things to come. He told her of the coming war, of the fire that would cleanse the world clean, and of the new world that would rise from the ashes of the old. He told her of many things, and as She listened, She felt something She had not felt in many years.

Respect.

At last, She thought. A human who TRULY understands.

He finished speaking. She nodded. "I will do as you have said," She admitted. "But I have only one question."

"Ask."

"Who are you?"

"My name is a secret," the old man said, "but most call me The Teacher."


They left with the dawn: James holding an icepack to his jaw and arguing with the stoic Michel the whole drive home, while Sandra and the Professor listened on in increasingly uncomfortable silence. Sol watched the drive away, then walked into the backyard, where She was sitting and looking out into the forest.

"So," he asked. "What did you think of my friends?"

"They seem like decent folk," She said. "But they lack your vision and daring."

Sol nodded, and put one hand in his pocket and ran the other along a windowsill. "You know, last night, after everyone had gone to bed, I went to the bathroom. On my way back to the room, I walked by this window, when I thought I heard someone talking. I heard an interesting conversation. I don't think they realized this window was open the whole time."

She was silent for a moment. "You know I didn't mean anything I said," She purred. "I said what I did to draw him out as a traitor. I would never betray you, not after all you've done for me."

"I hear you," Sol sighed. "But I can't take that chance."

He shot her twice in the head, saw her fall to the ground dead. He shook his head in regret. "Pity," he whispered. "I thought you, of all people, would understand."

"I did," a voice whispered, and Sol knew he was dead.

She bit his hand off at the wrist first, and it fell to the ground still holding the gun. That part was fast. The rest went much slower. About the time that she tore open his abdomen and started pulling his guts out of his body, he realized he had an erection.

His last thought before dying was that this was what he'd wanted all along.


The first thing She did was tear down the decorations and burn them in the back yard along with the uneaten portions of his body. She threw the robes onto the fire as well, feeling a sense of vindictive satisfaction as they curled and blackened. Then She walked back into the house and stood in front of the mirror.

Solomon Kidd looked back at Her. She frowned as She noticed a slight imperfection in the shape of his eyes, then fixed it with a small exertion of will. She would have to practice walking, She realized, in order to get just enough arrogance and braggadocio into all Her movements.

Then She went upstairs to his office, took the small post-it from the back of his monitor, and used the username and password written there to log on to his account. She spent the rest of the afternoon reading through his emails and correspondence, learning how to become Solomon Kidd.

It was shortly after the sun had set that She read one that made Her smile.

Re: Stepping Sideways
From: ten.srerednaw|yttikssim#ten.srerednaw|yttikssim
To: ten.noitandnimeerf|loS#ten.noitandnimeerf|loS

I'll help you on this, but just this once. After this, you're on your own. Come by the Library and I'll show you how to use the Ways.

Midnight

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