The sun was blazing hot. A massive desert spread out before the company of horsemen. There along the border of the Center and Southern Provinces was located what was known as the Dead Forest.
The trees were clustered closed together and stretched along the border, further than the eye could see. The trees looked as though a fire had consumed them, leaving the trees darkened, but still standing. Somewhere, out of sight the trees returned to their healthy state.
“Why are we here anyway?” someone grunted behind a heavy helmet with curved ram-like horns. The voice male, but sounding as if inside a tube.
“Because my father’s people are going missing, along with some within the Southern Province.” Garreth Draegon replied, sitting atop a black stallion. Similar ram-like horns adorned his helmet. “Seeing as how my younger brothers married their princesses, it is my obligation to investigate. Why you are here, you may thank my cousin, insisting that the two of us didn’t travel alone. Understood?”
“Yes my lord,” the voice answered.
“Good. Now dismount and search for clues!”
“Sir!” The chorus of men replied, quickly followed by the sound of shifting metal. Men fanned out in all directions, leaving two with the horses.
Reaching up, one flipped the facemask of the helmet up, revealing bright golden eyes, and hints of platinum white hair. “Why did you insist on bringing more men with us, Lukius?”
The man beside him also lifted the visor of his helmet. The horns standing straight up, with a slight twist forward. Sapphire blue eyes looked towards golden eyes. “It is safer cousin. Demons are going missing, and if we have many men with us, there is a less chance of you being taken. Your father would skin me alive if I let something happen to you.”
“No he wouldn’t Lukius.” Garreth answered. “By right of birth, you should be crown-prince, not my brother Kallen. But you refused the crown, and so my brother has taken the mantle.”
“I still do not think your father would be happy if I let something happen to you.” Lukius replied.
“What difference would it make?” Garreth asked, dismounting his horse. “My father has four other sons! What difference would it make for his middle-child to disappear for a little while?”
“Surely you don’t really believe that?!” Lukius asked, shocked.
“Garreth smirked, looking up at his cousin. “Not completely, no. But you are an only child cousin. You do not know the loneliness that can accompany the middle child. Besides. I have no wife; all my other brothers have married. There is peace within the provinces because of this. If I were to marry, it would be a lower noble from any province I so choose because my brothers had got to the princesses before I did.”
“I wonder about you sometimes Garreth.” Lukius mumbled dismounting as well. “It hard to tell when you are joking, or when you are serious with me.”
“A little bit of both, Lukius. A little bit of both.”
Together, the pair removed their helmets. Though the helmets were removed, the horns remained in place. Garreth’s platinum white hair fell just past his shoulders while Lukius’s hair curled around his ears.
“Have you read the reports?” Garreth asked.
“Of course.” Lukius replied. “There have been rumors of a strange portal within the Dead Forest, usually seen not long after a demon or demoness having disappeared. But when Zelda’s father’s men check it out, the portal is gone.”
Garreth nodded, before putting his helmet on the pommel of his horse’s saddle. “That’s the gist of it anyway. Do you have an idea where the portal is located?”
Lukius reached into a saddlebag and pulled out a roll of parchment. “It says something about some standing stones.”
“Standing stones?” Garreth echoed, shaking his head. “There are many standing stones in the Dead Forest. Before the Great War, the trees were lush and green, and many lived within the forest itself. The standing stones are ruins, of those isolated lodgings.”
“Not many have lived as long as we have, Garreth,” Lukius smiled. “No doubt these reports are coming from young ones that have not learned of the Great War, since there are many who wish to forget it.”
“If we do not learn our history we are doomed to repeat it.”
“If I’m not mistaken, your grandfather, the late Kind Azza, said those very things to you.”
“Yes.” Garreth replied. “I asked him once, why we had to learn about these things, when they will never come in handy. Apparently, knowing our history does come in handy. But come. Let’s find where this portal is supposed to be found.”
As the sun was starting to sink, Garreth and Lukius came across a cluster of standing stones that were very close to the reported disappearances. There was no discernable shape or even reason to the stones. There was a space that was wide enough for Garreth to step through; perhaps it had been a doorway once upon a time?
“There is nothing here.” Garreth grumbled, turning in a circle. “The stones really aren’t even standing. They just appear to be haphazardly placed. The men have found no clues.” Garreth ran a hand through his hair, before very gently rubbing the curve of a horn. “Demons don’t just up and disappear!”
“No, they do— Garreth look out!” Lukius cried out, rushing forward.
Behind Garreth, sparks of purple electricity seemed to materialize out of thin air. Garreth stepped forward, just in time, for the electricity to spread out, purple smoke forming into an oval. A moment later, the smoke cleared, leaving a distorted grey shape to form before him.
“What wizardry is this?!” Garreth bellowed, taking a step back.
From within the grey mass, popped out a young, almost pixie-like face. Bright green eyes looked up at Garreth and a bright grin spread across her face. Blond hair curled in soft ringlets around her cheeks. Without a word, a hand reached out, with long slender fingers, with black painted nails reached out. She wrapped her fingers around his belt buckle and pulled!
Lukius had been standing beside his cousin, watching with the same stunned expression as Garreth, so when a small woman gripped his cousin and pulled him into the portal, Lukuis was unable to react. He ran forward, chasing after his cousin, but found himself on the other side of the standing stones. Garreth had been taken right from under him and he’d been too awestruck to have done anything about it!
~ * ~
“My Lady! My Lady!”
“What is it?” High Priestess Hecate asked from her heavy oak desk. Her hair and eyes were black. She looked over the edge of a file folder, towards a blonde woman, with soft ringlets and bright green eyes.
“We have a royal, my lady.” The Fiona replied.
“A royal?” Hecate replied, an intrigued look spread across her face. “Are you sure? How did we manage to snag one of them?”
“You can just feel it my lady.” The Pixie-Faced woman replied. “It just drips from him! As for how we got him --.”
There was a loud roar that filled the hall behind the blonde haired woman. The sound was so loud, that it caused the glass cupboards and the glass on the desk to rattle and threaten to break apart.
The woman giggled, as if it was funny. “He was just standing there with another. I think they were investigating the loss of the other demons we collected.”
“Interesting.” Hecate mumbled to herself, putting the folder down. “Put him into the large observation room. I’ll meet with him, when he’s under control.”
“Yes my lady!” the blonde haired woman quickly skipped from the room, closing the door behind her.
Belle Hunter woke in a cold sweat. Her heart was pounding so loud in her throat and was choking her. It had taken a number of deep breaths before she was able to calm down. Golden eyes haunted her memory. When she closed her eyes, they were there, staring at her. Was that a premonition? Belle had yet to gain complete control over her spiritual gift, but she was getting better at reading her dreams, and telling the difference between a dream and a premonition of the future.
Why couldn’t she forget about those eyes?
Belle lowered her forehead to her knees, and just breathed. Beside her, her cell phone went off. The vibration against the wood bedside table accompanied the ringer, harsh in the dark silence of her bedroom. A quick glance told her it was HQ; well damn.
Belle plucked the small rectangle off the surface, slid her thumb across the screen to answer the call. “Hello?”
“Hello, Miss. Hunter?” the voice was feminine, almost bedroom worthy.
“Speaking.” Belle mumbled, running a hand through her hair.
“Miss. Hunter, your presence, is required at the Western Headquarters.”
“Why?” Belle asked. The conversation pulling her from the sleep induced fog.
“I’m afraid I’m not privy to that answer,” the woman replied, sounding rather tart. “High Priestess Hecate, just gives me my orders and I follow through. If you wish to know the reason why you’re being summoned, answer and find out.”
“Are you new to this job?” Belle asked.
“What time is it?” Belle asked, trying really hard to ignore how rude the woman was being. Then again, Belle had just woken from a nightmare and could have little patients.
“Ten o’clock in the evening.”
“Well, its one in the morning,” Belle grumbled. “So if you’re not going to have patients with someone, who has the right to ask a question, then I suggest you don’t wake them up from sleep!” Belle didn’t wait for the woman to answer and she just hung up. For all the bad attitude that she was getting from Headquarters, she was going to make them wait!
~ * ~
“Chasity, it’s not my fault!” Belle sighed into a cell phone. She was walking down a busy city street. Belle thought it was always weird when Wiccan Headquarters were always in the Business District in cities. “High Priestesses Hecate had me called to come into HQ. I can’t help just picking up and leaving.”
“She should have given you more notice.” Chasity growled from the other end. “You have work to do, you can’t just pick up and leave! I’m supposed to be dealing with the store inventory, not calling your appointments today and canceling.”
“I know, I know!” Belle sighed, as she stopped in front of the office building. The stairs suddenly felt very large and imposing. It was just a trick of her mind, but she was still feeling dread over going inside. “Chasity I’ve got to go, I’m in front of HQ. I’ll call you later okay?”
Chasity growled a little then huffed a little. “All right. I’ll talk to you later.” With quick byes, Belle put her phone into her pocket and headed up the stairs.
Belle had taken the earliest flight that she could over to the city. She was going to make Hecate reimburse her; nearly all her emergency savings where gone! Yes, this was something that it was meant for, but a last minute flight made it more expensive than it should have been if they had given her a few weeks notice.
Belle walked up to the reception desk and put on her most pleasant smile. “Hello. High Priestess Hecate summoned me.”
“Name.” the woman replied, sounding rather nasal.
Belle tried to hold back the twitch that wanted to jump in her cheek. “Belle Hunter. I got a call this morning, telling me to get here.”
“Just a moment.” Oh, Belle was so low on patients. Belle heard the click-click of the keyboard and Belle wanted to bang her forehead against the desk. There had been a few moments of silence before the woman started to speak again. “Someone should be up to see you soon.”
“Thank you.” Belle mumbled as she stepped from the desk to find a place to sit. The foyer was nondescript.
Belle had seen it so many times before; from movies, cartoons or in real life. A large bowed front desk with fake wood paneling. A long black runner that went from the round-a-bout doors to the desk. Everything was white wash, making it look sterile. The chairs were uncomfortable but at least they were padded. The only thing that was missing was the logo and the name of the company behind the front desk.
What felt like an eternity later, someone in a long white lab coat walked into the foyer, and bright smile spread across her face. “Miss. Hunter?”
“Hello,” Belle replied, standing and extended her hand.
“Belle it’s been a while,” the woman smiled.
Belle didn’t realize who it was until she saw that smile. “Cailean. It has been a while. I didn’t realize you made it to Tier Four.”
“Yeah.” Cailean smiled, leading Belle towards a set of elevators. “Just recently. High Priestess Hecate contacted me, saying that she wanted me part of HQ. That was almost a year ago.”
“Wow.” Belle replied. “But I didn’t think you’d want to be a Priestess or even a High Priestess.”
“I’m not, and I don’t.” Cailean replied. “Tier fours and fives are all within this building doing work for the community, using our talents for research and just trying to better things for our fellow witch. There isn’t a lot of priestesses within HQ. Not there isn’t any, but there isn’t many.”
Belle couldn’t help but feel that some of what Cailean had just told her was recited from a script, but she’d say nothing about it.
“Okay.” Belle mumbled to herself as they stepped into the elevator. “So if there’s tier four and fives within the building, why was I summoned? I’m not very far into my tier three.”
“You don’t have control over your Spiritual Gift yet?”
“Cail,” Belle mumbled, biting her lips together. “I get visions of the future. Any High Priestess, that had that gift said that it’s the hardest skill to master.”
“I didn’t realize,” Cailean replied. “But the reason why we need your help will become apparent soon enough.”
All this secrecy was so confusing. Belle was getting Goosebumps across her arms the further down they went. Just what was going on? Was HQ always this secretive? “Why did my name come up?”
Belle looked up at Cailean, a frown on her face. “There are many tier three witches in this city, I’m sure. Why did I get called across the country, to help you?”
Cailean looked away at the wall to her left, at the buttons ahead of her, her feet… anywhere but directly at Belle. “It’s your Charms and Potions skills that are required.”
“Again,” Belle mumbled. “Why me?”
“I’m not sure why,” Cailean sighed. “I know you’ve always been a strong witch, and not just with charms and potions. But we have a tier four witch here that’s good with charms and potions.” Cailean was quiet a moment, rubbing the back of her neck, blushing softly. “It was High Priestess’s Hecate’s call. She said to call you, get you in here, and get you to help.”
“What am I helping with?”
“Hecate wants to tell you that herself.”
Belle stepped into a large office. The carpet was grey and plush. The armchairs that sat before a cherry wood desk were black leather. The bookshelves matched the dark stain of the desk, and the grey curtains, Belle could only guess, covered a set of windows.
Behind the desk was an older woman, looking to be pushing forty. Her hair was pulled back, in a short ponytail. She was starting to go grey at the temples; High Priestess Hecate. She was sitting in a high-backed chair speaking on the phone.
Belle eased forward and sat down in one of the chairs waiting for her to acknowledge her.
Finally, the High Priestess hung up the phone and looked towards Belle. They stared at each other a moment before she finally spoke. “You’re probably wondering why you’re here Miss. Hunter.”
“Yes ma’am,” Belle replied. She needed to remember to keep her annoyance in check. She was running on very little sleep…
“You might not remember this,” Hecate replied, a knowing smile spread across her face. “But I was your teacher when you were young.” Belle’s eyes went wide; Professor Skye?! “You were a very talented student.” Hecate continued. “I remembered how, when we had the Summoner guest-speak in my Charms class, and they summoned that little imp. He was very taken with you and you were the only one not afraid of it.”
Belle frowned across at the woman. “So, you called me over to deal with an imp? I’m sure you have someone else more qualified!”
“No, its something much… bigger, than an imp.” Hecate stood up, and gestured Belle to follow her.
Hecate led Belle through a number of halls until they reached what looked like an observation area. There were some glass panels in the middle of the room. On one side of the room seemed to be video monitors. On the other side were a cluster of computers; people were standing in front of all of the screens, blocking what exactly was going on.
Hecate said nothing, and Belle stepped towards the glass panels. Whatever Belle was expecting to see, what she saw was not it. Two stories down, was a room. There was a large bed near one wall, and a round table with two chairs. It looked no bigger than her bedroom, in her apartment! What could they be keeping in there?
What, was sitting on the bed. It was big, very big! The skin was tanned, clad in leather from head to toe… What had her attention, besides the vast expanse of muscled chest, were the curved horns.
Belle turned around, looking over her shoulder at Hecate. “A demon? You have a demon?”
“Not, just any demon.” Hecate replied. “A royal demon. I’m certain you can feel his energy from here?”
Now that the High Priestess said something, Belle realized that she could. In fact, it was what she’d been able to feel at the front steps; that feeling of dread. “What exactly do you want me to do?”
“Get him to co-operate for the most part,” Hecate replied. “He also hasn’t eaten anything since we brought him in. We need him to eat something as well.”
“What makes you think I’ll be able to make him do as you ask?” Belle asked.
“We’ve had one tier three go in, and she was fine,” Hecate replied, rubbing the back of her neck. “But she wasn’t able… connect the same way that I know that you can.”
Belle was highly doubtful, but anything that she could do, to help them. The idea of this demon being locked in such a small room, starving himself, her heart went out to him. She gave a heavy sigh; she looked down at the demon. “All right. Tell me what to do.” Belle’s heart gave a hard thumb, when the demon looked up at her, almost like he could hear her.
~ * ~
Garreth laid there, staring up at the glass ceiling as the door opened and closed. He breathed in deeply, and this fruity smell filled his lungs. It was a very pleasant sent. Under the fruit, was the smell of female, but the power that came off her was different than the others that have come into the room. They’d sent in only one other with power like this. He turned his head towards the woman as she set down the tray of food. She turned to him and smiled softly.
“Hello,” she said. Garreth didn’t answer. He could smell her fear; it was starting to overpower the scent of the fruit. “They’re telling me you’re unwilling to eat. I’m sure it’s not all that… bad…”
Belle had walked into the room, and wanted to try and run right back out! The demon was so intimidating! His white hair covered the pillow; his golden eyes bore into her. Her heart jumped to her throat, but she had to put on a brave face! She greeted him, trying to make small talk.
Belle had been wrong about the meal though. “Just, what on earth is this?” She asked herself. There was a deep rumble from the bed. Belle looked up and watched as the large male walked towards her.
Belle looked away quickly towards the meal before her. She picked up the fork that had come with it and poked at the black thing that was covered in some weird grey… gravy. Scraping some of the gelatinous mass off the black thing and realized exactly what it was. “Is that… is that…? That’s bat.”
Belle looked up at the male and nearly jumped out of her skin. When had he reached her side? Suddenly she felt his warmth against her arm. “Yes. I don’t eat bat.”
“No wonder you don’t want to eat.” Belle commented with a shake of her head. “I’ll see if I can find something else for you.”
Garreth watched as the small woman walked towards and out the heavy steel door. The type of food was one reason why he wouldn’t eat. He also smelled something sour and not quite right under the… food. He grabbed the bottled water and twisted the cap off. Yes, this water didn’t taste great either, but at least he knew it was safe.
Belle leaned against the door and breathed in deeply. The man that allowed her through the door was still standing there. “Did you get him to eat?”
“No.” Belle replied, glaring at him. They were about the same height, and Belle wasn’t about average height for a woman of her background. “Not that I blame him. He’s not an Imp, he doesn’t eat bat! Who cooked that meal?”
“I did.” A black haired woman growled. “What’s wrong with it?”
“Besides the fact that it’s a whole bat?”
“Try that he doesn’t eat bat.” Belle explained. “He’s not an imp. In fact, I don’t think he’s a demon.”
“Then what is he?” the woman asked.
“I don’t know.” Belle replied, running a hand through her hair. “Demon’s typically manifest themselves as spirits, or black masses in the darkness that haunt people. They are evil spirits that can cause physical harm to those of us on the mortal plane.”
“So he’s not that type of demon. Maybe he’s a hybrid.”
“Of what?” Belle asked, frowning. “You mean those red skinned seven foot tall horned creatures? No. While that is the usual depiction of the Devil in the Christian religion, they are just a powerful form of those Imps that come to the knee.” Belle was quiet a moment, running a hand through her hair once more. “He had a different power to him than that of the Imps and the typical Demon that we have. What he is, I don’t know.”
“He’s still a demon. He has the physical characteristics and the small amount of blood we’ve managed to get, has a similar DNA sequence as the Imps.” The woman explained.
This had Belle’s attention; was it possible, that they were trying to study him? “So it’s possibly that he’s a breed of demon we’ve never encountered before. A type we cannot summon, like the Imps nor control like the Demonic Spirits. Anyway. He needs real food. Not bat. What else do you have?”
“They are serving burgers in the cafeteria.”
“There we go!” Belle exclaimed. “Get him a number of burgers, and I’m sure he’d eat those easier.”
~ * ~
Garreth had returned to his bed, by the time the door opened again. He’d been laying there, listening to the conversation behind the door. Not many of these witches and warlocks realized that his hearing was so acute, that he could hear through the glass. The door was a struggle to open since it was so thick and made of steel.
They wanted to know what he was huh? Well, he wasn’t about to let them find out. They had been lucky to get his blood, but he wasn’t going to let them study him further.
He looked towards the small woman, as she smiled at him. The food she’d brought, smelled much better, but that sour note was still present. Nope, he wasn’t going to eat. “This should be a lot better!” She exclaimed.
Garreth sighed, stood and walked towards her. He watched at the flight or fight reflex flashed through her eyes. She wanted to retreat, get away from him. He looked down at the food. Four brown pieces of meat, what looked like bread and some other things he didn’t really recognize. “What is this?”
“Its called hamburger.” The woman replied with a pleasant smile. “Its beef. It’s a lot better than the bat.”
“I won’t eat it.” Garreth replied, looking over the top of her head.
“Why?” she asked, surprised. “I can vouch that these tastes really good.”
“There is something in it.” Garreth growled. He looked up at the ceiling, his eyes bleeding black. “That’s right. I can smell whatever you’ve put into it. It doesn’t smell right!”
Belle looked up the male, surprised. She looked at the hamburgers before picking up one of the paddies. She grabbed a plastic knife and cut into it; it looked normal. No pink so they were cooked through and he shouldn’t get sick. Cutting off a small wedge of the paddy and went to take a bite.
The male’s hand easily wrapped around her wrist, making Belle stop and look up at him. “Don’t eat it. I don’t know what it is, but it might be poison.”
Belle stared up at him, unsure of what to say. “I don’t think they’d poison it.” She dropped the piece of meat, and the male released her. “I’m Belle. What’s your name?”
The male stared down at her; he seemed surprised. “Garreth.” He was silent a moment, frowning. “Why are you being so nice?”
Belle eased back, blushing a bit. “It’s my default setting.”
“Default setting?” Garreth repeated. “I know the words, not the meaning. The last… witch that was here, that had your power level, spoke down to me, thought she was better. But you are trying to speak to me as an equal.”
“Like I said, it’s my default setting.” Belle replied, stepping away from him, wanting some space. “I’m always kind to someone, until they give me a reason not too.” It wasn’t said out loud, but it was implied that Garreth hadn’t done anything to make her not be nice to him. “But I should probably get going. I’ll see if I can figure out what they are putting in your food.”
Once again, Garreth watched as this little Belle walked away from him. He had to admit, he liked that tight little ass. She had nice hips to her, and while it was hard to see under that oversized sweater, he could guess that she had a figure that could drive him crazy.