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~:: A Widow's Ordeal ::~

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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 and airwaves. "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 invariable 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 dingy 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.

Syn realized Meg didn't want Xandra to learn of the situation just yet, so she shrugged and nodded her head to the young girl. Don't worry, she pressed into the girl's thoughts, it's nothing we can't handle. I promised to take care of both of you, and I meant that. Xandra looked from Meg to Syn 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 do 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 doing anything that might harm the girl, 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, regardless of the facts. 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.

The hair prickled on the back of her neck as she coalesced on the inner side of the portal. Her keen demonic senses told her that someone was here, although the lights were dimmed. Peering around the corner, she saw nothing more than a faint glow coming from the doctor's private office. She knew Maritus favored working in the light, even when his idea of work was less than professional. Her finely attuned hearing picked up the softest clicking sounds. She levitated herself silently so that her footfall would not alert her quarry and cloaked herself in shadowy threads of darkness. As she peered around the corner she was taken completely by surprise at the sight unfolding before her eyes.

Aria Trovatelli was seated at the small computer desk in one corner of the doctor's office. This was his private computer and one that contained all the information concerning activities of members of the Betrothed, as well as all records connected to the Imperium Mind Clinic. She knew Maritus had taken great pains to encrypt and secure all of his data, yet it appeared that Operative Trovatelli had easily broken through his security.

She watched the woman for a few moments before she slowly lowered herself to stand on the floor behind her. Aria was so focused on reading the information in the files that she failed to notice the faint breeze created by the slow beating of the demoness's wings and the muffled thud as she landed directly behind her. Syn silently morphed into her human form.

With a soft cough, Syndi alerted the girl to her presence. She took a defensive posture, still cloaked in darkness, just in case the guilty party decided to make a break for it or perhaps even try to eliminate this witness. Aria jumped at the sound and spun to face her accuser.

"A bit late to be working, don't you think?" Syn asked sarcastically.

Aria's face was frozen in a mask of horrified guilt. "I…" she began, then fell silent as she dropped her gaze to the floor.

"You have about ten seconds to explain why you are here and what you are doing going though Doctor Maritus' personal data," Syn snarled.

"Please…I wasn't doing any harm. I am…looking for someone."

"In our organizations personnel files?"

"Yes," Aria said softly. "That is why I came to the Rogue Isles. I need to find her."

Syn's eyes narrowed as she assessed the woman for any signs that she might be lying. Aria squirmed uncomfortably as Syndi looked her up and down. This situation could end up being incredibly fortuitous. She now had Operative Trovatelli backed into a corner, and that gave her an incredible amount of leverage.

"And did you?"

"Not quite yet," Aria admitted. "But I feel I am very close."

"How were you able to access this computer?"

Aria let out a nervous laugh. "I am just good with computers like that."

Syn's eyes narrowed. Perhaps she could use this situation to her own advantage. "You realize that I am obligated to inform the doctor of this security breach," she said ominously, "…unless…"

A wicked smile played on her lips as she locked eyes with the young Arachnos operative.

"Please," Aria began, "you can't do that. Not because of me…"

"Why not?"

"Because he would hurt her," she said quietly, as her head dropped to her chest.

"Her? Who is her?" Syn's voice edged up a notch as frustration began to build with the operative's evasive answers.


"Locke? Xandra? Why… why would you care about her? She left this group some time ago."

"I know," Aria explained with a sigh. "I have been searching for her for years. The search led me first to the Rogue Isles. Since I was not considered 'super-powered' in any way, I had no way of really making any in-roads here. So I joined up with Arachnos, knowing they keep an extensive database on just about everyone. I figured eventually it would lead me to Alexandra. And it did," she added, gesturing towards the doctor's computer. "I found she was forced to join this organization by her kidnapper." Her voice cracked as she continued, "I just now learned that she escaped, and so far there is no information on her whereabouts. I am THIS close, and now the trail goes cold."

"Why are you interested in this child?"

Aria's voice took on a wistful tone. "When we were young… she was such a beautiful little baby… I used to care for her at the orphanage where we both lived."

"You are from the Children of Ramah?" Syn asked, incredulously.

Aria nodded as she continued. "She was so tiny, so fragile, so delicate... She was the only beautiful thing in our very bleak existence there. I… I … loved her… very much. She was like… my baby sister. Then one day she disappeared. I cannot describe everything I felt that day. I was hurt. I was angry. I was confused. I knew that someday I had to find her. I grew up and left the orphanage, and set out to find where she had gone. It was not hard to track her to the Rogue Isles. That part was easy. It was a bit harder to track down the demoness who stole her away. Then I found out about the curse."

"Where did you find all this information?"

"Originally? I found the police reports indicating there a suspicion that she had been taken to the Rogue Isles from back when she was kidnapped. So, I accessed a database in the Rogue Isles, but was locked out before I could find anything but a list with her name on it. Some kind of project – Destiny - I think is their code name. But I knew she was here." She paused before going on, excitedly, "I came here and quickly joined the organization. After passing a ton of tests, they assigned me to this Bane project that was the first of its kind. It’s kind of an elite wing of the Bane program. we are geared for gathering intelligence, and of course the occasional execution that goes along with covering up our existence." She made a face. "I am not really the executioner type, but I was drafted for my, ahem, information gathering skills. Getting a clearance to access information within the organization was better than I could have dreamed. To build expansive dossiers we must have access to all the knowledge that the organization possesses, except for a few high level files that exist only on the top ranking officials' personal computers and are not accessible across the network."

Syn nodded. "So you have a personal interest in Miss Locke. How do I know you are not really out to harm her?"

"You have to believe me, Syn," Aria pleaded, looking directly into her eyes. "I love her. I could never hurt her. I have devoted my entire life to finding her. She’s the closest thing I have in this world to family."

"What do you intend to do, once you find her?"

"I want to protect her and keep her safe."

Syn smiled. "First, you have to prove your sincerity. I want some information from you. Tell me everything you know about a woman named Megan Kingston. She is an Arachnos Widow, code name Megaira."

Aria turned her back on the succubus and began typing at an amazing pace. Within moments a black window appeared on the screen bearing the familiar Arachnos logo and a login prompt. She typed in her code name and password so fast even the sharp demonic eyes of the succubus could not have interpreted them.

A few moments later, they were reading a detailed file on Meg. Indeed, it appeared that she was accused of killing an Arbiter. An immediate death warrant had been issued, and the organization was now engaged in an all-out manhunt with orders to shoot to kill.

"Do they show her as being affiliated with anyone?" Syn asked, coyly.

Aria typed in a query and read off the results, "They show she has no real friends, only a few acquaintances with whom she has worked. Just a couple of others in the Arachnos organization, one Wilhelmina Ashton, and another widow code named Shadow Veil. Neither knows her well enough that they could offer any personal information on Megan. No one seems to know where she lives. The address she gave when she joined the organization was destroyed by a fire in Mercy Island six months ago. They have no current information on her whereabouts."

Syn let out a sigh of relief. "Very well." She thought for a long moment, before she transformed with a whoosh of dark energy into her demonic form. "What do you know about me, Aria."

"I know you are a succubus, bound to servitude to the doctor by the same evil demoness who took Alexandra. I know you are the doctor's second in command in this organization, as well as his personal secretary at the Imperium Mind Clinic, the front for his operations. I also know that you… use your… skills, to… umm… recruit talent for him."

Syn's eyebrows arched a notch. "Oh really? And you learned that from Arachnos?"

"No," Aria confessed sheepishly as she opened a folder on the doctor's computer. With a few clicks, she had the contents displayed as little icons - miniature still photos of what appeared to be security video files. Most of them showed the lovely succubus in various states of undress and positions with a host of different applicants. One file showed Syn assisting the doctor himself.

"That perverted son of a…" Syn hissed.

"You did not know he had cameras hidden in the lounge areas?"

Syn's cheeks burned red. "I am a succubus. I have some powers but I am not all knowing."

Aria smiled gently. "To be honest, most of these are pretty… hot."

"You actually WATCHED them?" Syn cried.

Aria nodded sheepishly. "I couldn't help myself."

"So the doctor has a secret porn collection, and I appear to his star performer," Syn mused, noting one of the videos involved herself and a certain assassin that had formerly worked for the organization. "Can you… eliminate one of those?"

"Don't you think he would notice it missing?" Aria countered. "Let me do this instead." With a few nimble taps she was on a website written in some foreign language, downloading a small program. "Which ones do you want destroyed?"

Syn pointed to the one showing a naked Marcus, reclining on the couch with only her dark hair providing him modesty. The scene elicited some fantastic memories for her. He was one of the few that she had actually enjoyed. A twinge of guilt washed over her for having such thoughts of the man who was now engaged to the niece of her beloved friend.

With a few clicks, the little program opened the video and began to process it. Syn watched in awe, trying to distract her thoughts from following the action they were seeing to avoid any more arousing emotions. She was failing miserably as she felt her chest begin to rise and fall in rhythm with the action on the monitor. She noted that Aria too was becoming quite aroused, and their proximity caused the succubus to feed on that erotic energy. Both women were in a state of sexual frenzy by the time the seductive video had run its course. Aria closed the program, and reopened it. Suddenly the images were grainy and blurred beyond recognition, marred by random boxes of pixelation.

"Oops! File corruption!" Aria giggled as she quickly erased all traces of her computer activity from the machine and powered it off.

Syn put her hands on the girl's shoulders, absentmindedly kneading her soft flesh. The tank top she wore slide easily off her shoulders as the succubus caressed her soft skin. Aria turned in the chair and raised her arms to encircle Syndi's waist. "I have never been with a succubus before," she said, breathily, "but I hear it is amazing."

Without another word, Syn took her hand. Aria followed her to the portal, then outside and to her small but attractive apartment.

The next morning, Aria rolled over to find Syn gone. Sitting upright among the mountain of fluffy pillows, she looked around the room. She slid to the edge of the bed and had just dropped her feet over the edge when Syndi appeared bearing a tray. "Breakfast," she smiled.

"Does this mean you are not going to tell the doctor about my snooping?" Aria asked playfully. Syn shook her head. "Aria, I need to know I can trust you. Mind if I take a look around inside," she asked, placing a delicate hand on the girl's head.

"I thought you did that last night?" Aria teased.

"That was pleasure. This is… work," Syn stated flatly.

Aria nodded her consent and opened her mind to the succubus.

"I have to be honest with you," Syn said, some moments later. "I know where Xandra is."

Aria thought her heart had stopped in her chest. She choked for a brief moment before she asked in a gasp, "Where?"

"Remember me asking you about Megan Kingston?" Aria nodded. "When Xandra…escaped…from our organization, Megan took her in. They both live somewhere very secluded with absolutely no records. I fear Megan being compromised within Arachnos may endanger both of them by virtue of the fact that Xandra is with her. I did not know if Arachnos had determined that the two of them were connected. But I want to protect both of them."

"You want to protect a woman who killed AN ARBITER?" Aria said, a little more forcefully than she had intended to.

"She did not. She tells me that she did not, and I believe her. I have known Megan for a while now. If she had offed him, she would tell me. She has been set up by someone within Arachnos. While I try to unravel who and why, I need help in keeping both Megan and Xandra off the Arachnos radar."

Aria grimaced. If she got involved, and could be tied to helping Megan escape Lord Recluse's twisted version of justice, she would be executed as well - as would the succubus and anyone else harboring someone who was suspected of killing an Arbiter. She swallowed hard.

"You realize if they connect us to her, we will be in the same boat she is in?"

Syn nodded gravely. "We need to find out what is going on here. Who framed her, and why?"

"You have a computer?" Aria queried. Syn nodded and pointed her towards a sleek laptop on a desk in the corner of the bedroom. Aria's visage set in a grim mask of determination as she accessed a proxy, then created a virtual network connection with an Arachnos server.

Instead of entering her normal code name and password, she decided to hack her way past the log in protocols. No one really needed to know she was looking at this particular information. The fewer connections they could make between the raven-haired Operative and the Widow, the better. Opening a small black window, she quickly circumvented Arachnos security protocols, and began electronically rifling through the files. "This may take some time," she murmured quietly. "I don't even know where to begin looking. They have the warrant listed in her file. It does not give me a whole lot of detail. Do you know who she might have been working for when this incident occurred, err, supposedly occurred?"

Syndi shook her head. She was in her human form this morning, and her dark brunette locks fell forward into her face as she pulled her cell phone off its charger on her dresser. She smiled at her foresight in buying these prepaid airtime phones for herself, Xandra and Megan. Of course they were more expensive than a traditional phone with a monthly bill, but no one could trace these phones or their numbers to a particular person. That little detail was about to become infinitely more important now.

Meg answered the phone sounding like she'd been asleep. "Megan, I need some information. Can you tell me who you were working for when all this went down?"

Aria heard the succubus murmur "Mmmhmm" a few times before saying "The good news is they don't seem to have any connection between you and Xandra… Yes, she can go back to school... No, I don't believe she is in any danger. Just make sure she does not mention you or any other personal details that someone might use to connect the dots… Sure. Anytime, honey… I will stop by later. Bye."

Turning to Aria, she spoke softly, "She was working for Seer Pia Marino, who is based in Mercy Island. She was sent to a base there to assist a co-conspirator, a member of your Spider faction, who supposedly had gotten himself into some trouble. When she arrived, she discovered that the nameless body she'd been asked to dispose of was in fact an Arbiter. Oddly enough, she had been slashed up in a manner that was consistent with Arachnos Widow training. The Huntsman assured her they had found someone to pin this death on. She later found out that when he referred to this 'someone', he meant her. A doctored video has appeared, apparently showing her leaving the scene at the time of the killing."

"How did she find out that there is a termination warrant on her?" Aria asked.

"Evidently this Seer told her."

Aria turned back to the computer screen and began digging. Moments later, a small gasp escaped her lips. "Indeed, there are notes here saying there are no leads to her current whereabouts, so they are watching everyone she's known to be connected to, and that means they are watching many of The Betrothed. However, I don't see Xandra...or you... mentioned anywhere. But they are watching closely to see if she reappears."

Syn nodded her head. "What can we do?"

Aria gave her a pained look. "I am afraid there is not much we can do, from here. All of the Arbiter's information is stored in multiple offline backups to prevent any tampering, including printed copies. Even if I could change this file, it would only serve to flag a discrepancy and make her look even more guilty as they would instantly know someone was trying to cover her tracks."

Syn swore under her breath. "Well, at least we know where she stands." Her cell phone chirped discreetly. Answering it, she was surprised to hear Meg's voice on the other end of the line.

"Syn, I called Pia, I mean, Seer Marino. She told me that the two men we thought were our allies have betrayed us. She asked me to go see Ghost Widow herself and warn her. I am not sure I can do this."

Syn hesitated for a moment before putting the phone in speaker mode. "What good does she think going to see Ghost Widow will do? Won't that be like turning yourself in? Are you sure you can trust her?"

"Well… it is a long story… but Pia and I have been in this whole mess together. Unfortunately, she is in just as much trouble as I am if we cannot clear my name. I have no other choice but to trust her."

Aria began typing furiously. A moment later, she looked up at Syn. "She is right, you know. It appears that this Huntsman has already sworn out a statement implicating her in the murder of Arbiter Cross. They have his word, and they have surveillance video of a Widow matching her description breaking in to the base and taking the body."

Megan listened to this strange voice for a moment before asking, "How do I know this is not yet another trap?"

Aria continued to type as Syn paced behind her. "We have no way of knowing that. There is only one way to find out. I will take you to speak to Ghost Widow."

Aria gasped out loud. "You would be putting your own life on the line if you do that. If Ghost Widow refuses to believe you and has Megan arrested, you will be taken as a conspirator."

"That is a chance I will have to take," Syn said flatly. "Meg, are you ready to go now?"

Megan's voice was shaking as she told Syn, "I have to make Xandra some breakfast, take a shower, and put on my uniform. Give me about an hour?"

"Perhaps it would be a good idea to go now..." Aria began, "I see from the surveillance data that the Widow is in her tower this morning. Although systems are reporting an unusually high amount of foot traffic near the entrance… you don't think…"

"That perhaps this traitorous Huntsman is actually using Megan and Seer Marino to get to Ghost Widow?" Syn asked. "Actually that type of backstabbing sounds very typical of Arachnos."

"I want to come with you," Aria volunteered.

"No!" Syn said emphatically. "We cannot afford to compromise your clearances by revealing our affiliation. You have a reputation to protect. You are far more useful with that clearance than without. I cannot let you jeopardize it."

Aria opened her mouth as if to protest but after a moment's thought she realized that the little succubus was right.

"Meg, I will be over in an hour. Stay put and do not leave the house until I am there, okay?" Syn instructed her. Megan acknowledged and bid her goodbye.

Syndi turned to the raven-haired Operative and put her hands on her shoulders. "Don't worry. I have a feeling this will all work out."

Aria gave her a look drawn with worry. "I wish I could be so confident. I feel like we are jumping off a cliff, here."

Syn shook her head as she ran her nimble fingers over the girl's satin flesh. "That is not a problem when one can fly, you know." She said with a wicked smile. "Come, Aria, we have an hour to kill."

She leaned in to press her mouth over the still unformed protest that was struggling to escape the young Arachnos soldier's full lips. As their mouths melded into one writhing surge of passion, she wrapped her arm around Aria's trim waist and guided her to the bed without ever breaking that heated contact of their hungry mouths.

Aria returned the kiss with fervent passion. She could feel her apprehension melting away in the face of the intense flames of their arousal.

Almost two hours later the slightly disheveled succubus stood next to a worried Widow at on the stern of the ferry from Port Oakes to Mercy Island. Syn wrinkled her nose at the thick pungent smoke belched out by the ancient diesel engine as the dilapidated old vessel slowly made its way to its dock. She wrapped the leather trench coat tighter around herself and turned away from the damp spray that misted her face as the rundown craft chugged through the breaking waves as it neared the shore.

Megan's face was hidden behind her helmet, but Syndi could tell without seeing it that it was drawn tight with worry. As the ferry bumped hard against the docking ramp, they stumbled off and headed away from the group of transients who were lined up trying to board the ferry out of desperation to leave the bleak milieu of Mercy Island.

They made their way along the rocky waterline, trying to ignore the scattered population of infected residents who were staggering around in a daze or bent double blowing foul streams of whatever contents their stomachs held into the briny water along the shore.

Followed the shoreline to the tip of a small peninsula then carefully climbed the bank. Moving carefully around a small congregation of decrepit shanties, trying to avoid getting close enough to be seen and attract attention, the two crept along at the edge of the sloping rock face that dropped down to the shoreline. Suddenly around the corner of the high wall of the fort a flyer appeared, its huge searchlight scanning the ground ahead of them. Syndi knew the intensity of the light could pierce the even through the shadows she commanded enough for them to see the colors of Meg's uniform, so trying to cloak themselves in darkness would be futile. Grabbing the startled Widow by the hand, she pulled her quickly over the edge as the both rushed headlong down to the shore where the remains of an ancient shipwreck rested. She dragged Meg into a shadowy chamber of the broken hull and waited for the light to pass over them. She could hear the quiet fans on the nearly silent flyer passing over them as they held their breath.

Once she was sure it was well beyond them, Syn grabbed Meg by both shoulders. "Look, I am going to sneak past the guards, and manifest at the entrance. Do not move from this spot until I summon you. I will bring you to me, then sneak inside. You just have to slip inside and stay hidden long enough for me to find her. I will try to read her intentions before I let her know why I am there."

"What if she thinks you are a threat?"

"I don't think she will. I have met with her before… years ago. She sort of owes me a favor, actually…"

"Don't tell me you actually… with HER?" Meg asked incredulously, her voice tinged with slight disgust.

Syn snickered, "No, she's not my type, and her soul is already bound so there would be no point in me trying to use my charms as leverage in that regard. No, I just provided her with some information, once, that is all."

Meg paused, her unseen mouth hanging slightly open.

"Don't ask," Syn said, dryly.

"Do NOT move!" Syn commanded. Megan nodded. Syn closed her eyes and once more summoned a cloud of cold darkness around her as she morphed from her human form into her natural demonic state. Her wings unfurled behind her and beat the air as she lifted off the ground and flew along the shoreline towards the shadow of the dark tower that was barely visible on the horizon through the still patchy morning fog.

Flying low and following the short line, she slowly ascended when she neared the tower. She had just silently dropped onto the small roof that covered the entrance to the tower when she saw the flyer pass below her, combing the shoreline.

Meg felt the hair raise on the back of her neck as she heard soft footfall nearby in the sand. She tried to sink back into the shadows but it did her no good. The silhouette of three dark Arachnos Spider armor suits loomed over her as she realized she was trapped. She took a deep breath and extending the sharp claw blades that were part of her gloves, and took a defensive stance as the first soldier opened fire. The blast knocked her back into the rotting wood of the old wreck. It splintered with a loud crack as she landed hard against it. She gasped to catch her breath after the impact and spun around, slashing her blade in a circular arc around her. She knew she hit at least one when she heard him cry out in pain and clutch his side. A second one lifted his weapon but instead of firing a blast he swung wildly, striking her in the head.

Syn waited for the flyer to disappear around the corner of the fort before closing her eyes and invoking a summons. "Through the threads of darkness and eternity I pull you to my side, Megaira!" she softly exhaled.

Seconds later the Widow materialized from a cloud of dark energy. There were a few scorch marks on her uniform and her helmet was slightly off kilter. "Just in time," Meg panted, shivering from the icy cold of the dark threads of energy. "I guess there are worse ways to travel," she quipped.

"Yeah, like in the back of the HappyCorpse meat wagon?" Syn retorted.

"Good point," Meg muttered as she entered the code Pia had given her to open the door and followed the petite succubus inside.

Megan slid into a dark corner, hiding in the shadows. In the dimly lit corridors, Syn's mantle of darkness made her almost completely invisible. "Syn," she hissed, "That wasn't a random run in. They were looking for me. I think we've been had."

Syn nodded glumly. "Either way, it plays out the same. If we cannot get Ghost Widow to believe you are being framed, you are going to have to spend every breathing moment inside your apartment, probably forever. They will never give up on hunting you. And that is IF we make it out of here…"

"I know," Meg whispered with a sigh.

"Stay here," Syn ordered her quietly.

Meg nodded and pressed up against the wall near the door when suddenly a small cadre of Arachnos came around the corner and opened fire. They never saw the succubus hovering just above them. Her eyes narrowed as she picked the perfect spot to open a sucking channel of dark energy that pulled downwards on everything above it. The group quickly realized the little widow was not alone, and tried to retreat but it was too late. Casting writhing bonds of darkness, the succubus tied them firmly in place. Their vision obscured by the murky black of the negative energy, they found it nearly impossible to strike out at either the nearly invisible demoness or the Widow. Megaira moved in to the group with relative impunity and within a few moments, the bloodied forms of the small troop littered the cold metal floor.

Noting the Mu laying in one corner, Syn observed, "Call it a hunch, but I am betting these are NOT Belladonna's guards. I hope we aren't too late."

"They obviously knew we were coming," Meg said, in a hushed whisper. "Well, they knew I was coming, anyway. I think you were a bit of a surprise."

"It's okay," Syn hissed. "I have even more surprises. As I was saying before we were so rudely interrupted, you just wait here. I am going to find Ghost Widow. I will summon you when I have located her."

Once again Meg nodded her assent and found a dark corner to duck into.

Syn spread her wings and flew quietly off down the dingy corridor. The red glow of monitor screens and incubation tubes cast a hellish glow on the little demoness. She made her way through the short hallway to the elevator, checking each small floor as she ascended. She found roving bands of guards but the Ghost Widow was nowhere to be found. Several floors up, she rounded a corner in the narrow corridor when she heard the sound of an ominous laugh followed by a voice she knew belonged to the wraith that called herself Ghost Widow.

Holding her breath, she listened for a moment. Indeed, this traitor was planning to dispatch Ghost Widow, then kill Seer Marino's brother out of a belief that his life was what bound her to this plane of reality.

She knew she had to act fast. She flew silently into the room just as several of the Mu mystics invoked a spell that began to bind the ethereal Widow's force, preventing her from coalescing into a form that could affect things in their plane of existence while tearing away threads of her essence. The powerful energies had been well planned to effectively trap Ghost Widow in between the realm of the dead and the realm of the living in a painful state of suspension as it slowly shredded her eternal soul.

I cannot wait, Syn thought quickly. Raising one delicate hand, she opened a channel to the netherworld: a sucking pit that enveloped anything that passed over it in a viscous dark energy that pulled them downwards, slowing their movements to a crawl. The Huntsman swore profusely as he realized that his brilliant plan had just encountered a huge problem. He looked around for the source of the dark forces he was feeling but could only make out a slight breeze blowing over him from the beating of Syn's wings. She closed her eyes and silently mouthed the summons, pulling Megaira to her side.

Her command of the darkness was not quite enough to totally obscure the lithe Widow from the Arachnos traitors. The Huntsman charged Megaira with a yell, followed by several panicked Mu firing wildly around them. The incantation broken, Ghost Widow fell to the floor, weakened and dazed. As she struggled to stand, Syn pressed in to her thoughts. We are here to help. Still weakened from the draining effects of the powerful mystical assault, she met the gaze of the petite succubus and smiled, quietly cheering them on as she fought to recover what the Mu had siphoned from her.

Meg felt a burning rage coursing through her veins as she furiously attacked the man who had betrayed her. The fears for her own safety and for that of Xandra boiled within her and were released as a blinding fury in the direction of the man who had framed her in the eyes of the Arbiters.

A massive wave of hideously dark force came rushing past her to drop him where he stood. As his body slumped onto the cold metal, Meg turned to see the succubus smile and nod towards the now retreating Mu. Launching a wave of dark power towards them, it formed writhing threads that held them in place. No longer able to escape, they concentrated on using their magic to try to drain the little Widow of her strength. But her anger at once again being betrayed by a man she had trusted gave her a superhuman stamina as she quickly dispatched them from the first to the last.

When it was all over, Meg stood gasping for breath as Syn explained the ordeal to Ghost Widow. The beautiful wraith nodded knowingly. She turned to the young woman who was wearing a uniform much like the one she had worn many years before. "Megaira," she said, "if you save Wretch, all your trespasses will be forgiven."

The blonde nodded solemnly, thanking Ghost Widow as she vanished into an ethereal mist. Syn put a sympathetic hand on Meg's shoulder and felt her trembling. "You going to be okay?" she queried.

"Yeah," Meg answered. "I have heard a lot about her. I never thought I'd actually meet her."

Syn nodded. "Let's go see Seer Marino, and see if she can tell us where they are holding the Wretch."

Meg nodded and pulled a small cell phone out of her uniform. Unlike the one Syn had given her, this was thin and easily concealed, and bore an official Arachnos insignia on its front. She punched in the code to dial Pia's number. She must have been waiting with the phone in her hand, because she answered it instantly.

"Arbiter Diaz has asked me to relay the message to you that he needs to speak to you immediately. He has given his word that you are in no danger if you go quickly."

Megan's face went ashen. The thought of facing him while she still wasn't sure if she was the prime suspect in the murder of an Arbiter made her almost physically ill.

"We have to go," Syn said softly. "It is the only way to resolve this."

Megan knew she was right. Syn gave her a thin smile. "Come on, let's get this over with."

The trim Widow followed the succubus out of the dingy tower and into the gloomy milieu of Mercy Island. "I know, I know," she quipped, "wait right here."

Syn grinned. "You are learning." With a wink she spun around and took flight towards Fort Darwin. With a soft clank she landed next to the flyer that was bringing the latest round of potential “Destined” to face their new life in Mercy Island. She discreetly rounded a corner and found a dark shadow that kept her away from prying eyes while she once again summoned the Widow to her side. Megaira took a deep breath. Syn could feel her anxiety even without seeing it etched across her helmet covered face.

Dismissing the threads of darkness from around them, they both approached the Arbiter together. He greeted Meg and assured her that he indeed had word from Ghost Widow indicating that Megaira was working in her employ in order to track down a nest of traitors. He curtly assured her that he would suspend the termination order until the facts could be verified.

Megan breathed a visible sigh of relief. Diaz ordered her to call Seer Marino and get to the bottom of the matter so that the entire affair could be quickly resolved.

Pia seemed almost frantic. Even though they had dodged the Arbiter’s bullet, Paolo was still in grave danger. She urged Meg to hurry to the location where they were holding him.

Syn recognized the address they were given but was surprised to find the instructions were not to enter the structure but instead to access the sewer entrance. It appeared that the Mu had Pia’s brother, or what was left of him, trapped in the bowels of Mercy Island.

As they dropped into the entrance to the first long tunnel, Syn gave Meg a silent look and was met with a wordless nod. The succubus cloaked herself in darkness and took on her demonic form as she flew silently down the twisted corridors. It did not take her long to follow the sounds of conflict through the hollow echoing passages to find the hulking creature that had once been a man surrounded by his Mu captors.

She landed on top of a pump that was quietly churning the polluted waters below. Using only her mind, she silently summoned Megaira and with a small blessing infused her with a surge of power beyond her normal range. The feral rage that was born of betrayal once again manifested itself as she attacked the Mu who had betrayed her with a savage fury.

It was not long before the room in which they stood was littered with bodies of the fallen mystics, and Paolo, now known as the Wretch, stood before them. They barely had time to catch their breath when they heard the cries of more of the crazed mystics heading towards them. Surprisingly, Paolo seemed inspired by the news that the girls had saved his beloved Ghost Widow, directed his fury at the incoming horde and decimated them quickly. The trio made their way back through the twisting channels to emerge in the murkey light of Mercy’s cloudy sky.

In fumbling, broken speech he thanked them for helping him and mostly for helping the beautiful wraith he lived to protect. Meg could not help but feel pity for the being trapped inside the monstrously mutated form.

While Seer Marino debriefed the svelte blonde Widow, the dark succubus headed for the ferry. Her cell chirped, indicating Meg’s readiness to leave this desolate place and Syn quickly invoked her power to summon Meg to her side. They stood together on the ferry’s bow waiting for the huddled masses to clamber aboard so the over-laden craft could chug slowly back to Port Oakes.

For the first time since this who ordeal began, Meg pulled her helmet off and let the intermittent rays of sun beat down on her silky blonde tresses as the ocean breeze whipped them around her face. Syn moved close and put a reassuring arm around her waist.

"Relax," the succubus murmured in a silken voice. "The worst is over. Things can get back to their former chaotic semblance of normalcy." She smiled warmly.

Megan laughed. "My life hasn't been normal since, well, since I can remember."

"Sometimes that is not a bad thing," Syn quipped.

Meg met the beautiful brunette's dark eyes with a genuine smile. "Thanks," she said. "Again, I owe you one."

Syn shook her head. "Consider taking on raising Xandra as more than payment enough."

Meg smiled. "She is really no trouble. In fact, she gave my life a focus. That is something I have not had since..." her voice trailed.

Syn nodded in understanding. She knew full well Megaira's dark history...

Megan Kingston was born with a silver spoon in her mouth. The young heiress had met her handsome prince charming and fallen madly in love. However, her fairy tale turned sour after only a few years of marriage.

Many would say Meg was born into a gilded life. She was the only child of shipping and warehousing magnate Reginald M. Kingston and his wife Dagmar. She was sent to the finest private schools, and groomed for a comfortable life. She was both intelligent and beautiful, and attracted many worthy suitors.

When she met Dale the first time at a charity event, she was completely taken with his chiseled good looks and his charming personality. They struck an acquaintance and quickly warmed to each other. It did not take long for him to propose. At her parents' insistence, Meg reluctantly presented him with a prenuptial agreement, which he was more than happy to sign. Life seemed blissful and perfect.

He worked for a large corporation in their security department. While they were dating, she accompanied him to one of his office parties where Megan was introduced to Alyssa, a young woman from the secretarial pool. The girls were polar opposites with Alyssa being dark and voluptuous, and Meg being blonde and athletic. One was a wealthy socialite, the other was a working class lackey. By some twist of fate, the two women struck up an instant friendship. The three of them often attending parties together, and Alyssa even lived with them for a short while after her apartment building was evacuated following a fire.

Not long after they were married, Megan's parents were tragically killed in a yachting accident, leaving her to inherit the vast empire of the Kingston Group. She mourned, and both her new husband and her new best friend comforted her.

She enlisted a therapist to help her cope with the unexpected loss. At the beginning of one of her normally scheduled sessions, her therapist got an urgent phone call and had to abruptly excuse herself to deal with a personal emergency. Megan decided to head home and take a nap. Oddly enough, when she arrived, Dale's car was in the driveway. She heard laughter and music coming from the back yard along with sounds of splashing. She circled around the house, following the drifting sound. The privacy fence was designed to completely block all eyes from peeking into the private yard area. Megan quietly tapped in the code to unlatch the gate and slowly eased it open just enough to see the pool.

What she saw tore through her like a dull knife. Dale had Alyssa on her back on the edge of the pool. Both of them were completely naked. He was standing in the shallow water and her legs were wrapped around his back. A mixture of shock, sadness, and pain held Megan transfixed at the scene.

Their voices drifted across the water and into Megan's tortured hearing. "I have to stay with her, Lyssie. At least for a few more years until some of the investments I made in my name pan out. The bitch has me by the balls with that prenup," he panted, never losing his rhythm.

"I wish we could be together more often," Alyssa whined. "You'd think the stupid broad would get a hobby or something instead hanging around the house all the time."

"Yeah, baby, I know it is hard to get away from her," Meg heard Dale say.

Tears started to form in the corner of her eyes as she to them continue to malign her. The one good thing left in her life after the death of her parents had just turned so bitter it made her physically sick. The man she trusted and loved with all her heart was a liar and a cheat. Something deep inside her snapped.

She backed away from the gut wrenching scene and crept around to the front entrance. Silently entering the empty house, she went to the safe, and took out her favorite handgun. Quietly she crept onto the patio and padded barefoot down the marble steps that led to the courtyard near the pool. The music was loud enough that they never heard her approach. Dale pulled Alyssa into the water and balanced her on his hips as he continued to rut her. Alyssa's eyes were closed as Megan moved silently behind her cheating mate. When she opened them, she was staring down the barrel of a very large pistol. She let out a startled cry.

Dale could see a look of wildly insane rage in Meg's eyes. It was a look of murder and he knew it. Her first thought was to force them to hang themselves then report it as a double suicide. She had a feeling that no one would believe that. Then she came up with a different plan. She ordered Dale to carry Alyssa out of the pool and onto the lawn. Their faces burned with shame as the unwillingly complied with her demand.

Her rage seethed as they groveled and begged for their miserable lying lives, but in the end, it was to no avail. In a mocking voice, she recited, word for word, the verbal interchange between the adulterous pair, including Alyssa calling her a "stupid broad." Alyssa hung her head and began to cry, knowing she was doomed.

When the muffled gunshots finally rang out, putting an end to their simpering, Megan was flooded with a sense of relief and the feeling of being righteously avenged for the wrong they were perpetrating against her. A feeling of empowerment surged through her as her actions become precise and methodical.

She dressed them in the grass, where they had finally fallen, as easily as she had dressed game when she had accompanied her father on hunting trips. Dale had already had the foresight to pan the security cameras away from the pool area and park them facing the small cabana, which meant that no human eye would ever see her grisly deeds. She packaged them in large freezer bags and put the bulk of the packages in the walk-in freezer in the basement. Dale's pedigree hunting dogs would feast tonight, and for many nights afterward.

She pulled off her clothes and tossed them along with Dale and Alyssa's clothes, into the fire pit along with several logs. Soon she had a cozy fire blazing as the bloodstained evidence disappeared forever. She turned on the sprinkler system and watched the crimson disappear from the lawn, seeping down into the soil to provide nourishment to the roots of the thick grass. She would leave it on all night, just to be sure that nothing remained behind. She placed three bundles of meat on the grate over the firepit, slowly roasting it, before carrying it back to the stable and tossing it into the dog run. Around midnight, she called Dale's office to leave a cloyingly sweet message with his answering service.

After a few days, it became apparent that something was seriously wrong. The investigation into Dale's disappearance began to dig deeper in the facts, and eventually uncovered Dale's workplace dalliance. Megan was able to feign ignorance and even shock when the police told her about it, but one detective had a gut feeling that Meg knew far more than she was telling.

He called and asked if they could come and look around the house. Meg coolly agreed to let them come the next afternoon. She spent the evening cooking. She made an enormous amount of savory pot roast, well seasoned and accompanied by carrots and potatoes. Several pounds of meat were cooked and delivered to the dogs, who ate it with great relish, devouring even the bones. The next day while the officers searched, Meg cleaned the kitchen and served them pot roast and homemade bread. No one noticed that she ate only the bread. An officer opened the freezer, and found only neat rows of meat, wrapped in vacuum-sealed packages made to help preserve food in the freezer. The bags had a mesh-like texture and a rime of frost that obscured the fact that the meat was slightly different than your average cut of beef.

After a week of daily searches, the officers gave up and went home. Meg maintained her cool demeanor throughout. They had turned up nothing at the estate but the fact that Dale's cell phone was on the nightstand, with several missed calls from Meg throughout the evening that he disappeared. It appeared that perhaps he had just forgotten it when he left the house that evening, but again, Detective Emberling's instincts told him this was not the case.

Several months passed and the case began to turn cold. Karl Emberling was not one to give up that easily, however. Every bit of his seasoned police intuition told him that Megan was as guilty as sin. But he had no way to prove it.

Then one afternoon, an anonymous phone call came in to the station. The voice on the other end of the line was curt, requesting that he meet her in a seedy club on the west side of the city. He hesitated before she invoked the Kingston name. Warily, he agreed to meet her.

The clandestine meeting proved fruitful. The club was full of young tattooed freaks sporting Mohawks in a rainbow array of colors. The slender young woman in the maroon bodysuit was nondescript among the outlandish garb of the counterculture that considered this bar their home. A strange helm sat on the bench beside her, and she wore dark glasses as she motioned for the detective to join her at a darkened booth in a secluded corner.

"What have you got?" he asked nervously.

"I promised you information on the young woman who killed her husband and his lover. Megan Kingston, I believe, is her name?"

He nodded. That much could have been gleaned from the news media who had not made any outright accusations but had still capitalized on the story of the heiress with the missing husband and his alleged mistress.

"Where dogs lie, their masters sleep," the woman said, cryptically. He was this close to dismissing her as some kind of crackpot when her next words caused his heart to leap into his throat.

"The evidence you seek does not exist. Smoke rises and water washes away a multitude of sins, however…there is yet one detail that has been neglected. The young woman with whom he was philandering used the facilities in the pool cabana. Her image will appear on the video recording, and if you go search the rooms, you will find a small handbag that does not belong to Megan Kingston. More than that, I cannot see. But this should be enough to point you in the proper direction."

It took him a moment to compose himself. "How do you know this, and why are you telling me?" he blurted.

"I know many things," she purred in a self-assured tone. "I do not limit my sight to what my eyes can perceive. I have come to help you. If you do not want my help, then I will take my leave of you and will not bother you again."

"No, it is not like that! I did not mean to sound offensive," he apologized. "I am a detective, and it is my nature to question everything."

She nodded. "I understand. However, if you return and seek for that of which I have told you, you will no longer doubt me. A handbag might have been easy to plant," she continued, reading his next thought, "But altering the video would be nearly impossible."

He nodded silently. "Thank you, miss…"

She smiled, flashing a row of perfectly white teeth. "I will be in contact with you if I happen to receive any further information on this matter," she said curtly as she slid from her seat and tucked the helm under one arm.

"Thanks," he said dully, as he watched her move silently towards the door, and slip outside unnoticed.

He stepped out into the darkened alley, but she was gone. He pulled his cell phone from his pocket as he turned and walked towards his car. "Brad? This is Carl. I got a lead on the Kingston case. I need another warrant. We are going back there."

By midnight, Megan was downtown in a dimly lit interrogation room. The video was crystal clear. It appeared that Alyssa had slipped into the cabana to insert her diaphragm. A laughing girl walked directly into the line of sight of the security camera, turned to give a full, clear view of her face as she blew a kiss to someone, presumably Dale and opened the cabana door. Her tiny handbag was found on the floor beneath a bench in one of the changing rooms, where it had fallen. The empty case for the diaphragm was at the top of the purse and open.

Megan became stoically silent. Despite the pressure and their interrogation tactics, she never snapped. The pain she had endured had scarred her deeply and now these scars protected her, enabling her to bury her emotions within them.

The trial lasted months, and at first it looked like Megan would go free. However, fate was not to be so kind. The jury that seemed swayed to her favor suddenly turned as if they were influenced by some force. A unanimous vote led to a guilty verdict and a life sentence. Shock and disbelief coursed through the courtroom and no one noticed the maroon-clad figure in the back of the gallery as she slipped out amid the frantic media onslaught as the doors were opened.

Meg adapted well to life in the women's ward of the Zig. Rumors about her crime were abundant, and she became somewhat of an icon to many of the women there who had known abuse at the hands of their husbands and boyfriends. She made friends and lovers while incarcerated, and developed a lasting relationship with a towering brute of a woman named Cassandra when a riot and prison break occurred. Meg was targeted for release and escorted from her cell out into the prison yard where she was whisked away by agents of a strange criminal association to a new life in a place dubbed "the Rogue Isles".

And now, Syn mused, she was living in Cap Au Diable, raising a young girl and trying to find some kind of normalcy in her life. Syndi felt a pang of sorrow for Meg as she put an arm around her waist. "Why don't we pick up a movie and spend the evening with Xandra?" she suggested.

Meg gave her a melancholy smile and nodded. With a sigh, she watched the sun paint the horizon with the dusky hues of sunset as they approached the dock. She felt a sense of relief at the absence of a present danger, but deep in her heart she knew that this was only the beginning of her ordeal as a member of Arachnos.