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~:: A Troubled Widow
Chapter I ::~
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No good deed goes unpunished, so they say. Yet, fortuitously, her good deed was most likely what ultimately saved her life. Had she not agreed to care for the child, she would not be so invisibly hidden from the powers that ruled these dark and violent islands. She pondered the logistics of her twisted fate as she sat at the table holding a small piece of paper with trembling hands.
The girl was still at school. According to the juvenile flowery scrawl on the hastily scribbled note, she had a make up test after her regular classes. Meg wondered if she should attempt to go there and pick her up, or just wait and hope she made it home safely. Near panic weighed on her chest, pressing a bitter torrent of bile into her throat. She swallowed hard and took a deep breath. Time to call in a favor, she thought bitterly, even though I really don't have one coming.
The silken tone at the other end of the line was absolutely unmistakable. Syndi Johansson had a voice unlike anything Megan had ever heard. It was the kind of voice that could stir feelings of arousal in the most virginal of creatures.
"Imperium Mind Clinic, how can I help you?" the honeyed voice purred.
"Syndi." Meg's tone was terse and her voice harsh. "I need your help."
Syn was startled at the sheer force of the panic she could feel even across distance between them that was spanned only by thin copper phone wires. "Meg, are you alright?"
"For now," she breathed hoarsely as she felt her throat constrict. "I need to talk to you. Can you stop by?"
"Sure I can." Syndi looked at the clock. It was almost two. She had skipped her lunch break to finish filing a mountain of paperwork the doctor had given her the day before. He was starting a new project, which invariably led to a flurry of activity to cover his real motives and to keep his adversaries confounded.
She hung up the phone and sauntered back to where the doctor was seating at his desk, poring over something on his computer screen. "I am going out for lunch," she said softly.
He barely looked up and grunted. "I have no other appointments, this afternoon, Syndi. Why don't you just take the afternoon off since it is already so late."
She was surprised at this offer, but realized it was probably more to keep her out of his hair whilst he plotted his next big move.
Not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, the curvaceous brunette murmured, "Thank you," and turned on her heels to head back towards her desk. She slipped off her crisp white lab coat and hung it on the peg beside the filing cabinet. Hastily she straightened up her desk then made her way through the silent lobby to the front door. She locked the door behind her as she moved slowly into the bright sunlight.
Ducking into the shadows next the building, she closed her eyes, and transformed into her natural form. Spreading the taut flesh of her dark wings to their full span, they began to churn the air as she took flight towards the ferry that would take her to Cap au Diable.
Meg sounded upset. Not just upset but nearly panicked. Meg was a woman who brutally murdered her husband and his mistress, who just happened to be her former best friend. It wasn't easy to shake someone like her. Syn began to feel a sense of apprehension pressing down on her as she fumbled with the decrepit outer doors that led into a dreary lobby of a long-abandoned warehouse. Assuming her mortal form, she entered the dilapidated old building.
She followed the path of dim halos cast by the aging mercury vapor lamps hanging high above her head. Reaching the end of a corridor, she stepped between two rows of rusty shipping containers. Her eyes quickly adjusted to the darkness in the deep shadows as she approached a nondescript roller door. She rapped sharply on the dingy metal. She was answered by a faint buzz and a staccato click. With surprising quietness that belied its dilapidated appearance, the door began to glide smoothly upwards.
Stepping through the door, she felt her eyes straining to see in the near pitch black darkness. She stood perfectly still as the floor beneath her feet shuddered slightly. As the door closed, a pale light glowed from the ceiling just above her head. The shudder became a steady vibration as the car hummed to life, descending effortlessly towards the hidden chamber below.
As she stepped out of the dark lift and made her way down the steps into the comparative brightness of the foyer to Meg's living quarters, the young Widow rushed forward and threw her arms around her.
"I am so glad you came," she said breathlessly. "I don't know what to do. Something terrible has happened."
Syndi's eyes flew open. "To Xandra?"
Megan shook her head. "To me. I have been double crossed. Someone set me up, Syn. One of the Arbiters is dead, and they are blaming me. But it is Xandra that I am worried about. She's still at the school. She had some tests to make up so she stayed late. I don't want to go back out and risk leading someone back here. But I don't want them to find her either."
Syn nodded gravely. Arachnos could never connect this place with their young minion. The Widow Megaira would be safely hidden here as long as she didn't leave. Syn had arranged for the lease of the abandoned building, and taken care of the expenses herself. On paper it looked as though the upper parts of the warehouse were being rented as a storage facility for sundry supplies bound for the Imperium Clinic. Maritus, at Syn's suggestion and having previously met Megan, approved the expenditure himself. His excuse being was that he could use an inside contact with Arachnos, although from the leering gazes he gave the svelte blonde, Syn suspected he was more interested in inside contact with Meg in a much more personal way.
Out of gratitude for her assistance, Megan had secretly agreed with Syn to hide Xandra, a teenage girl who had come to the Betrothed from the vile demoness who truly pulled the strings in the organization. This demoness had cursed the poor child, giving her unusually extreme powers then summarily dumped the child on Maritus, who was more than happy to have a malleable juvenile mind to brainwash. He used the girl's elemental skills to his full advantage. He confided to Syn that once the girl matured, he planned to teach her a few other skills, and use those to his advantage as well.
Syn felt sorry for the innocent child. She knew the girl held nothing but fear, loathing and contempt for both Naimah and the cruel doctor. She eventually helped the child escape and persuaded Meg to take her in.
Now Meg and, unbeknownst to the doctor, Xandra both lived in the subterranean portion of the old warehouse. Meg spent the majority of her savings and a good portion of her Arachnos salary fixing the space into a cozy apartment. The pair developed a strong bond. Xandra was happy to finally have a mother figure. Meg was not particularly happy about anything but she soon fell into a comfortable routine. Now this whole terrifying scandal threatened to blow it all apart.
"You have a lot of contacts, Syndi. I hate to ask another favor, but is there any way you can find out if Arachnos has connected Xandra to me?"
Syn nodded. "That won't be hard at all. Maritus just recruited a young woman who is well connected in the ranks of Arachnos. She's a special candidate for an elite group of Bane assassins that specialize in covert intelligence. She is also a skilled hacker. From what I have managed to overhear so far, she has already been deep in the personnel database. It is my understanding that she's looking for someone, but she hasn't said who. Perhaps I can persuade her to take a look through your file."
"But for right now," Meg said with a trembling voice, "could you please go pick Xandra up from school?"
"Relax," Syn said with a reassuring smile. "I will make sure she gets home."
Reaching into a small leather case affixed to her belt, Syn pulled out a small phone. With a few high pitched beeps she dialed the information service. "Aeon City, please. Yes, I'd like the number to Sister Halcyon's School for Disadvantaged Young Minds. It might be under SDYM, also. Oh, it is? The general office, please. Thanks." She smiled woefully at Meg. "I have the number at the office, but not in my personal cell."
She smiled as the operator put her through to the requested number. "Yes, Sister Verita? Is Sister Halcyon there? This is Syndi. I need to talk to her. It is a matter of importance." There was a pause while Syn paced the floor and waited for the Sister to summon her boss. "Hallie! Hey, Xandra Locke is taking some tests today. Yes, I know the classes are over. She was staying after to make up some tests. Of course I am sure. Yes, I can wait."
Leaning back against the wall she tapped a delicate foot impatiently. Finally she heard a soft young voice on the other end. "Syn? Is Mo…umm…Meg alright?"
"Yes, dear. But we need you to come home now. I will explain when you get here. Did you finish the test?"
"Yeah, about fifteen minutes ago. I was asking the teacher some questions about the homework for next week." Xandra loved learning and was very devoted to her studies.
"Okay, you know the drill. Take a deep breath and concentrate. Through the threads of darkness and eternity…" Syn's voice dropped to an almost growling tone. Xandra felt the familiar twinge of being pulled molecule by molecule outside the time stream. With a dizzying rush she felt her body coalesce next to Syn, as Meg stared in surprise.
Syn heard the phone clatter to the floor and the rustle of a habit as the Sister fumbled to retrieve it. "I have to assume that was you," Halcyon chuckled.
"Yes it was," Syn replied with a small laugh. "Thanks, Hallie."
"No problem. I hadn't even realized she was still here. She was upstairs in the biology lab with Sister Delicata."
"She said she was asking some questions."
"Always," Hallie replied with a hearty laugh. "She is one of our best students. I don't have any trouble out of that one, unlike most of our others."
Syn smiled. "Thanks again, Hallie. Talk to you next week."
As she flipped the phone closed, she noticed Xandra staring at Meg with a look of deep concern. Meg's visage was taut with worry.
"What's wrong?" Xandra asked.
"Nothing. Don't worry." Meg fibbed almost instinctively.
Xandra looked from Syn to Meg and let out an almost silent sigh. She'd been thoroughly brainwashed against questioning the adults under the not-so-tender care of Doctor Maritus, but there were times when her feminine instincts threatened to override that programming. Obediently, she excused herself. "May I go watch TV, please?" Meg gave her a stern smile. "If your homework is all done."
Xandra grimaced and shook her head. She turned with a deep sigh and walked resignedly towards her bedroom.
Syn gave Meg a melancholy smile. "She's a good kid, in spite of all she's been through."
Megan nodded slowly. "Yes, she is. She's been a huge help around here. I am so worried that she might get caught up in this whole mess. If they can tie her to me, they might go after her in order to get to me."
Syn nodded gravely. "I will find out all that I can."
"Not to be rude, but I have to go make dinner. I am sure Xandra is starved. You are welcome to stay, if you'd like."
Syn smiled. "That would be nice. I haven't had a home-cooked meal in a long time. No pot roast, okay?" she quipped.
Megan scowled and gave her a wry grin at the morbid inside joke. "No pot roast. Hamburgers, baked beans, and homemade slaw. Sound good?"
"Sounds great," Syn said, enthusiastically. "Anything I can do to help?"
"Sure, if you'd like," Meg said with a thin smile as she led her towards the brightly lit kitchen.
As the two worked side by side, they engaged in idle small talk. To an uninformed observer, they were the picture of domestic tranquility and friendship. It would be hard to fathom that one was a human manifestation of a demon succubus and the other was a brutal killer.
Alone in her room, the accursed teenage girl sat poring over her schoolbooks. She barely heard the quiet conversation echoing from the kitchen. Her mind was torn between the day's algebra lesson and pondering Megan Kingston's strange demeanor tonight. Why was it so important for her to come immediately home? Why did Meg seem so upset? Finally, she finished the last word problem and tucked her finished homework in her binder, ready for class the next morning. She was an exceptionally bright girl who loved school and the approval heaped upon her by the Sisters for her consistently excellent work.
Xandra had not been at the school too long, only since she'd been living with Meg. The Order of Harmony, and it's rather odd group of Sisters ran their small private school out of an old mission house in an decaying neighborhood in Cap au Diable. Syn, who seemed to have connections almost everywhere, had made arrangements for the school to take Xandra in, no questions asked. This allowed for a completely transparent existence with no bothersome records to trace her back to their secret abode. Syn had engineered the entire situation including the girl's escape from the evil doctor and his Betrothed.
Until now, their secret life was driven solely by the need to keep Xandra hidden from the doctor. Since Naimah had been defeated and bound from interfering it had been even easier to keep their whereabouts a secret. The fact that Meg had suddenly appeared as a blip on the Arachnos radar might tend to blow that all out of the water. Especially with Aria Trovatelli now working for Maritus, Syn reminded herself glumly. She knew that she would have to find a way to get through to Aria and win her over without alerting Maritus to her actions.
Dinner was peaceful and quiet, with Meg and Syn deep in thought, and Xandra politely avoiding any direction questions. Soon the three were wiping down the last of the dishes and saying their good-nights.
As the beautiful succubus made her way back through the warehouse alone, she remained pensive. She waited until she was sure she hidden in the shadows from the cold gaze of the ubiquitous security cameras to morph into her demon form. As she flew high above the city her mind churned rapidly as she digested the scope of their new problem.
If Megan was truly marked for execution, especially for killing an Arbiter, she knew that Arachnos would spare no effort to find and eliminate her. They were not known for a sense of fairness or justice. If Recluse even suspected you were guilty, it was simpler to terminate you than to go the trouble to sort out the details. The fact that someone might actually be innocent was just an inconvenient truth.
The mountains below were dark and the wind rushing through the canyons between them made an eerie sound as she flew low over the landscape. Hidden by shadowy threads of darkness, she made her way to the entrance to the secret lair that was home to the true organization led by the evil doctor - The Betrothed.