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~:: Endgame ::~
Chapter VI

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She had no idea how long she'd laid there. The last thing she'd remembered was tugging futilely at the restraints and gasping for breath as she choked on her tears. She evidently dozed off, exhausted by fear and her struggle.

She awoke slowly in the dark room, to the feel of a gentle touch rubbing a very sore wrist. Her heart sank as she felt his fingers glide over her chest until she realized that he was fastening the buttons on her vest. Slowly he began to fasten each small button, pausing midway up to let one finger trail over the soft skin between her firm breasts. With an almost inaudible sigh he fastened the last few buttons.

Her eyes met his with a pleading gaze. He shook his head slightly and said softly, "It is almost time to go. Please cooperate so that we can both reach our destination safely. The sooner that happens, the sooner you get back to Paragon City, and the sooner I am relieved of the burden of your presence."

She couldn't explain why, but the last remark stung. She sat up slowly. Her throat was parched and raw. She tried to speak but only managed a weak croak. He offered her a large glass of water that he'd had the foresight to place on the nightstand. She sipped slowly, letting the cool liquid trickle with a soothing wetness. Once she'd drained most of the contents of the glass, she let out a soft sigh.

She scooted to the edge of the bed and smoothed her skirt. He'd done the best he could in trying to put it back on, but it was slightly sideways. She stood and undid the small bow, and turned the skirt to its proper orientation. He stood in the darkness and just watched her.

"You will need to eat something. We have a pretty good hike ahead of us and I don't want you fainting on me."

She nodded. He brought her a plate with a cold hamburger sandwich and a small glass of milk.

"I am not used to entertaining guests," he explained. "The sandwich was warm before I had to subdue you."

She looked up at him with mixed feelings of fear, guilt, and uncertainty. Tentatively, she bit into the sandwich. Despite its temperature, it tasted good. She hadn't realized how hungry she was until the first bite hit the pit of her very empty stomach.

She fairly wolfed down the rest of the sandwich and drained the last dregs of the milk. He had to smile as she wiped her lips with the back of one hand. "Feel better now?" He stepped out of the darkness and offered her a long black hooded cloak. "This will make you a little less conspicuous."

"Thank you," she said softly.

"Don't thank me. If you are spotted, it will mean trouble for both of us. Just do exactly as I say. Heroes found in this neighborhood generally don't last too long."

She shivered involuntarily.

Wrapping the cloak tightly around her, she followed him the doorway. He inhaled her soft scent as she moved huddled close to him while he unlocked the many security locks on the door. He stepped out the door into the dark alley. "Stay very close to me," he hissed.

She closed her eyes and summoned the threads of darkness that shrouded her in a black mist. He nodded and smiled. "That will help."

They quietly worked their way back towards the door to the club. Creeping slowly along in the shadows, they were almost to their destination when they rounded a corner and in the faint glow of a lamp filtering through a window, they saw the small group of Longbow creeping down the middle of the alley. "Back!" he hissed almost silently. But it was too late. The Longbow Warden had already caught a glimpse of movement out of the corner of her eye. They all turned and trained their weapons on the terrified girl.

"Halt! Raise your hands in the air."

Sheken immediately complied. A lump formed in her throat.

The Warden approached her slowly. "Up against the wall." The trembling girl turned and put her hands on the cold rough bricks. She glanced around but could not see her companion and realized that her captors could not see him either.

The Warden began to pat her down roughly. As she bent over the search the girl's lower legs, he struck. "Run!" he yelled. Before Sheken could react, he'd met the business end of a taser. He fell to the ground, stunned and she found herself immediately pressed hard against the bricks and immobilized.

The Warden got back up and rubbed a lump on the side of her head where he'd struck her. "What have we here?"

Sheken reached down into the front of her cleavage on produced a small pale purple pill. Popping it, it released a surge of clarity that enabled her to break free of the pressing force. The Warden spun, and focused her mental energy at the girl, blasting her with a Psionic force that was so strong it knocked her to the ground, near where the fallen stalker lay.

As she struggled to regain her footing her mind raced. "Wait a minute!" she cried out. "You are Longbow! Why are you attacking us?"

"Attacking villains is our job," the Warden replied curtly.

"I am NOT a villain."

The other officers gathered round while one produced a flashlight. "I had my ID somewhere here... " Sheken fumbled. "Perhaps I lost it in the struggle."

She felt something hard pressed into her hand. Her companion still had her purse tucked in his own coat. She looked down at her ID card and handed it triumphantly to the Warden. "Here."

"What are you doing here?" The Warden eyed her with increasing suspicion.

"We were on assignment in Bloody Bay, when we were ambushed, robbed, knocked unconscious, and brought here. We weren't even sure where 'here' was until some vagrant gave us directions to the door that can get us back to Pocket D, and allow us to safely return to Paragon City."

The Warden inspected the ID card closely. "Mandana. Daughter of DeLara, the one they call VuDu Dawl?"

Sheken nodded. "Yes."

"A fine empath, your mother is. She saved my entire platoon during a massive Arachnos attack in Siren's Call one day."

Sheken smiled. Her companion rubbed his head as he tried to stand. The Warden turned to him, "And your ID?"

"He doesn't have one," Sheken interrupted. "I told you, we were robbed. He managed to save my purse by giving them his wallet while hiding my things. They took everything he had."

The Warden met the girls gaze, then turned to stare intently at her companion as he stumbled to her side.

Her sudden attack came so fast he didn't have time to think. Sheken grabbed him forcefully, pulling his face close to hers. Her mouth was pressing hard against him as her small tongue darted between his lips as they parted in utter suprise. One arm snaked around his waist to hold him close as she ground her hips against his groin. He moaned involuntarily as an urgent swelling began to assert itself in response to the sensation.

What the hell is she doing? His mind raced as he tried to find a way to stem the surge of lust that was building in him as she panted softly into his mouth. Her tongue parried with his own as the satin softness of her lips firmly massaged his own lips.

"I am so glad you were there to protect me," she moaned, huskily, into his mouth.

As she ground hard against him, he fought wildly to control himself.

The Warden coughed loudly. "Well...you aren't far from the Pocket D entrance. We will escort you there. You really must learn to be more careful when working in the Border Isles. We do not always patrol these areas. You are just lucky that we came here trailing some stolen chemicals, or you might have been found instead by some nefarious villain."

Sheken broke the embrace long enough to gasp out "Thank you so much for helping us. I can hardly wait to get him home."

"I see that," the Warden answered dryly. "However, this is neither the time, nor the place. Even with our skilled protection, there is much danger for you here. Let's get a move on!"

Motioning with one arm, her troops fell in behind her as the group moved towards the nondescript entrance to the club. He held the door for Sheken, as she turned and smiled at the Warden. "Thank you for saving us!" she yelled, as she ducked into the club.

Once inside the hallway, he pulled her into a dark corner. "You are quite the consummate little liar," he whispered, darkly. "Now would you mind explaining what that was all about?"

"She was Psionic. A very advanced level. They can probe minds and read thoughts. I didn't want her getting too far into your mind, or she would have discovered that I was lying. Having Psionic strengths myself, she could not read my thoughts. Only what I wanted her to see. But I knew she'd be able to read yours. So I had to distract you, so your mind was flooded with thoughts that didn't matter."

A shocked look crossed his features as he blinked hard. "So, all that was to keep me from thinking about anything that would give us away?"

She smiled and nodded. "And it worked. I have had to develop certain... umm... skills at deception, in order to deal with my mother's oppressive tyranny." She gave him a wry smile.

"Tyranny?"

"Yes," she sighed, glumly. "She is so worried about the damned prophecy she won't let me out of the house most of the time."

The word once again sent a shudder down his spine. "I think I can understand her point of view," he said quietly. He looked her over. It was too bad she was so young. The urges caused by her sensual assault still hadn't completely abated. He briefly considered pursuing them, but chided himself. She hadn't meant to tease him. She'd done what she'd done for a reason. A good reason. Of course, that fact didn't make the ache in his loins feel any better, he thought with a deep sigh.

"Will I be able to get back in from here?" she asked, hesitantly.

"Sure. I will go with you." Then he quickly added, "Just to make sure you get in safely."

They walked silently to the elevator, the soft soles on his boots making no sound, while her heels tapped quietly on the cold concrete floor. They stood together in quiet contemplation as they waited for the soft ding that would indicate the arrival of the elevator car. He motioned her in ahead of himself, and again as they entered the spacious club.

As they made their way towards the main room, Sheken was nearly run over by a short, stocky redhead. "What are you doing here, young lady?" the nearly hysterical female shrieked.

"I... umm... "

"LOOK at you. You are dressed like a trollop. I've seen CARNIES with more modesty!" she motioned to the very short skirt her daughter was wearing.

Sheken dropped her gaze to the floor as her shoulders slumped dejectedly. "Mom... please."

"And just who is this?" Her mother screeched hysterically. "Have you been with him all weekend?"

"Yes mom, but I can explain. He was helping me."

"Sure. A villain, helping you." The angry demoness turned to the startled stalker. "Did you sleep with her?"

He blinked hard and swallowed as his eyes flew open in utter shock.

"LAY OFF, MOM," Sheken screeched over the pumping beat of the music. "WHAT IF HE DID?" The girl was screaming at the top her lungs. "HOW MANY VILLAINS HAVE YOU SLEPT WITH?"

The music ended abruptly immediately just as the word "did" rolled off her tongue, but the next seven words escaped her lips as a shrill, reverberating scream before she could stop them.

The entire population of the club dropped their jaws open simultaneously at the sheer volume and audacity of the question as it echoed across the now completely silent club. They all turned collectively in the direction of the high pitched screaming, to see the diminutive redhead backhand her daughter soundly.

Tears stung Sheken's eyes as she saw the hurt on her mother's face.

This was far worse than being caught by Longbow, he thought for a fleeting second.

"I am sorry, Mom." Sheken looked down at the floor. "And no, we didn't."

DawL grabbed her daughter and hugged her close. "You had me so scared. I was worried sick. I couldn't find you anywhere. I could sense that you'd come here but I couldn't connect with you beyond that. Perhaps it was the shifting between dimensions."

Dawl turned to the stalker standing in utter shock beside her daughter. "I am Sheken's mother. I am known as VuDu DawL."

He nodded almost mechanically as he squirmed uncomfortably under her gaze.

Her tone softened as she stretched forth her hand. "I apologize for my outburst. She's my only daughter."

"I understand, ma'am," he answered softly. "I was only helping her. It seems she fell into some bad company."

Dawl turned to Sheken with a puzzled look. "I will explain everything later, mom."

The empath shook her head. "I had a funny feeling you were going to get yourself into trouble. So much that Keres brought me home early. I came looking for you. You are in a lot of trouble for disobeying me, you know."

Tears welled in her daughter's eyes. "I'm sorry, mom." Turning to the stalker, she suddenly threw her arms around him and hugged him tightly. "I am sorry for not trusting you. Thank you for helping me."

He blushed and nodded wordlessly. Her mother took her by the hand as she gave him a polite smile. "Yes, thank you for helping her."
She raised her hands towards him and showered him with warm magical energies.

He silently turned and headed back towards the elevator that would take him back to his abode as the two horned females made their way towards the door to Talos Island. He found himself feeling a strange concern for the girl and hoping that she wouldn't be in too much trouble over her little excursion.

No sooner had he stepped out of the elevator, than he nearly literally ran into Naimah. The giant demoness looked down at him with a rather ravenous smile. "How fortuitous to find you here! I wish to speak to you regarding our business arrangement."

He was in no mood for this but she had him cornered. He stifled a frustrated sigh and motioned her towards the passage leading to Port Oakes.

She fell in step with him and followed him through the doorway. They walked in silence until they approached a deserted area of shoreline below the rocky cliffs where the dilapidated arena stood. He looked around to make sure no one else was near enough to be a party to their conversation.

"It is time for you to undertake the job I have tasked you with," she purred as she pulled a small envelope from beneath her cape. "Here is all the information you will need. Locate this girl, hold her until I give you the word, then eliminate her. Fairly simple. You may do whatever you wish to her while she is in your possession, short of killing her. Consider that a fringe benefit. Once she has provided a sufficient distraction, and my associates and I have completed our initial attacks, then you may dispatch her in whatever fashion pleases you."

He nodded slowly. "As you wish." He tucked the folder into his coat.

"I will make this worth your while. The other night was a mere down-payment," she whispered in a husky voice. "I have already spoken to the doctor, and he has given his complete consent to my utilizing your services."

At the mention of her contacting the doctor, he shuddered. He barely understood the twisted relationship between the power-hungry Doctor Maritus, and the demoness. Rumor among his followers held that it was she who gave him his preternatural abilities to control the minds of others, in return for some dark price. Whatever the truth was, it somehow revolved around her having some incredible sway over him, and carte blanche to use the services of those minions he controlled.

"This will help cover your expenses, and perhaps soothe whatever shred of a conscience you might have," she told him as she pressed a small velvet bag of coins into the sweaty palm of his hand.

She nodded curtly to him. "Contact me as soon as you have the little wench in your possession. Do not fail me in this, Marcus."

His lips curled in a sneer but he managed to bite back the sarcastic retort his pride was weaving upon his tongue. Instead, he merely nodded and waved goodbye, as he disappeared into the shadows.

The house was cold and dark. He tossed the envelope on the table and turned on a small light over the sink. The contents slid from their jacket and fanned themselves across the smooth wood. A small dossier, several pages of carefully compiled information, and several photographs lay sprawled before him in the pale light of the dingy incandescent bulb.

For the briefest moment he felt his heart stop beating as his eyes focused on the top-most photograph. No, he told himself, this could not be. But there, staring back at him was the smiling face of the petite redhead who had recently been his rather unwilling houseguest.

A sour feeling in the pit of his stomach threatened to send forth the bile that was rising in his throat. How could this be? The closer he examined the documents spread before him, the more concrete the realization became. He was going to have to kill the girl he'd just saved.

He never put much stock in intangibles like magic or fate or karma. Now it seemed that perhaps he'd been wrong. He had to wonder if this was some kind of sick repayment for his nefarious career choice. He stood on shaky legs as he felt the same sensation as if he'd been physically punched in the stomach. Stumbling to the bathroom, he fell to his knees as he gripped the cold porcelain. He convulsed as the first wrenching wave of nausea gripped him and violently twisted his insides.

The passage of time seemed to slow to a crawl. What seemed like hours could not have been more than a few minutes, he realized, as he hugged the clammy curves of the smooth ceramic bowl. His eyes were watering and the bitter taste of bile was on his lips as he struggled to stand. With faltering steps, he made his way to his room and fell upon the bed. As he struggled to lay perfectly still, with each shallow breath he inhaled the delicate scent she'd left behind upon his bedding. With a small sob, tears began to stream down his pale visage.

Hours passed as he struggled with his deepest emotions. When he began his career as a cold-hearted assassin, he thought he'd put such intangibles behind him. Emotions were for the weak, he believed. Now that belief was lording over him and kicking him in the chin as he lay in the gutter he had carved out with his own sordid deeds.

A knock at the door caused him to jump. He had no friends and certainly no one was expected at this hour. He made his way through the pale shadows of dawn that were creeping into his living room. Peering through the peephole, he felt the lump in his throat sink all the way to the lowest pit of his stomach. It was Maritus. The doctor had come to see him and there was no doubt in his mind what purpose his visit was going to serve.

He opened the door, and with a terse nod the doctor pushed past him and strode into the living room with the self-assured air of someone who knew they were in control. He tried turning away but Maritus quickly spoke up.

"Marcus," he said in a patronizing tone, "it has come to my attention that you are serving Lady Naimah. In many capacities," he added with a stern glare.

The assassin hooded his eyes and nodded slowly. "I am."

"Oh, do not get me wrong," the doctor continued. "I fully approve. In fact, Naimah seems to feel that you might have some reluctance to fulfill your obligation to her. I assured her that nothing could be farther from the truth. Isn't that right, Marcus?" As the words dripped off his tongue, the doctor looked him directly in the eyes, pinning him in place with his powerful gaze.

Suddenly the spittle in his mouth seemed to turn to sawdust, and his throat constricted. He heard himself speak. "I will fulfill my obligations, Doctor Maritus." The voice was flat and devoid of emotion but the echo of the words burned a path into the swirling torrent of his thoughts.

"I am sure you will, Marcus. I am sure you will." Maritus smiled as his gaze seemed to bore into Marcus's very being. The Doctor continued. "You will avail yourself to the Lady Naimah, and complete whatever duties she requires of you."

"Yes, Doctor Maritus," he heard the strange voice coming from his parched lips reply.

"Very good, Marcus." Maritus smiled baring his gleaming teeth in the pale light of the impending dawn. "I shall be going now." With that he turned and made his way back to the door and into the newly dew-christened morning.

The assassin's head was swimming. He had to wonder if it was stress brought on by his present situation, the after-effects from the Doctor's forceful invasion into his mind, or a combination of the two. Either way, he knew he needed to lie down. Stumbling back to his bedroom, he dropped into the bed and this time instantly fell into a deep sleep.

To Chapter VII