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Read more Samantha Berg stories!

Samantha Berg and the Intense Infernal


James Turnbull

If it wasn't one thing, it was another. The cloying scent of lavender and honey assaulted my nose and shot through my body in ways that made me wish I'd simply been shot. The closeness of the demon caused physical sensations throughout my body, and I don't mind admitting that it was difficult to keep my mind straight. Not that I hadn't dealt with demons before, of course, but this one was different.

It couldn't just be a standard summon. At this point, I would have been downright thankful for a guard demon, or even one of the more esoteric summons like a spider or a weaver. Whoever'd set this up was smart, it seemed. They hadn't sent any of those, apparently knowing my history. They'd sent a succubus, one of the only demons that wasn't tied to a summoning thread and could partially penetrate a ritualist's natural resistance to mind control. I could feel her magics through her scent and the closeness, could see the threat in her perfect, seductive smile, and I had to fight to keep my brain remembering that she was, in fact, a threat.

It couldn't just be any succubus, though. It had to be a lounge singer. A very intense lounge singer. I swore to myself I was going to find a way to blame Eddie for this. If I lived through it.

* * *

The Kit Kat lounge was exactly the sort of place that the name brought to mind. It was a dark hole under an only slightly more respectable bookstore in uptown, approachable only via a set of stairs on the outside of the building. The shaved gorilla at the door checked you roughly for weapons, and left you wondering how it sat still long enough to let its handlers put the suit on it. Your welcome to ask if you'd like, but I chose not to. I thought the gorilla might find it impolite.

After getting your weapons put in storage for safe keeping, you were shuffled into a room with red colored wallpaper with the appearance of velvet, and several tables and booths covered with royal purple cloths. One could, if one were feeling generous, call the coloring 'lavish'. I call it 'whorehouse'. Thankfully, the colors are offset by the constant haze of smoke from cigars and pipes filled with varieties of tobaccos and herbs. Forgot to bring your pipe and cigars? No worries, a scantily dressed waitress with more curves than personality will gladly bring you one for only a few bucks. For a few more, she'll even light it for you. And for just a scant few more dollars, she'll let you see the drink list.

Or you could sit at the bar, ignoring the tables entirely. The bartender would gladly fill your glass with a watered down cocktail while gently talking you into drinking far more than you should. He's so good at his job that you don't even question the bowtie, even though such things hadn't been considered fashionable in thirty years.

The Kit Kat Lounge was, of course, far too high class for recorded music. The sound of a piano, just out of tune enough to not quite get on your nerves, mixed with a cello being plucked instead of bowed like God intended, and a singer whose voice had lost the battle to the smoke of her place of employment wafted through the air as thick as the smell of tobacco. The music wasn't unpleasant, so much as it was background. One did not come to the Kit Kat Lounge to hear the music unless one has a particularly eccentric masochistic streak.

So why might one choose to go to the Kit Kat Lounge? Business. People in the magical trade needed a place to gather and discuss things that polite company didn't need to hear, and the Kit Kat Lounge was the current location for such discussions. Of course, that's not why I was there. At least, not directly. I was smart enough not to trade in tribal artifacts, and I had a legitimate ritualist's license. I had no need to discuss under the table trade or under the radar summons.

No, I was being paid to track down someone who was dumb enough to need to discuss under the table trade or under the radar summons. My target was young enough that he hadn't noticed me tail him when he'd left work, and still didn't notice after I'd followed him into the club. If it wasn't for the fact that he was looking every which way in a near parody of paranoia, I'd have thought it was a set up. As it was, the whole thing still stank just a little.

Didn't really matter, though. My job was simple and easy, and I'd gotten cash in advance. The kid was going to be the handler between point B and point C of some artifact sale, or so I had been informed. I'd been watching his habits the past few days, studying him to make sure I could tail him without being noticed. You can imagine my surprise when it turned out he was a twenty year old diner cook. That was when my nose started sensing something rotten. Still, the kid was either the world's greatest actor, or he was on the level. Nothing about him seemed like he was anything other than a dumb kid being paid enough money to do something sketchy.

I tossed a few dollars onto the tray of a passing cigarette girl, who turned to offer me my pick. I chose one, and let her light it as I kept my target in the corner of my vision. The kid stayed put, drinking from his glass in a way that screamed 'I'm trying far too hard to look casual'. I hoped the kid met his contact here tonight. It had been the third night he'd come, and quite frankly I was getting tired of the place. Still, it was easy enough for me to look casual. I'd been doing that sort of thing so long that the only thing that could throw me off my game was my ex-husband sitting next to me and pulling me close to whisper sweet nothings in my ear.

 “What the hell...” I began, but he cut me off.

 “Sam, for once in your life shut up and pay attention.” He spoke in a firm, harsh whisper that managed to shut me up. Eddie was a cheat, a con-artist, and a liar, but he wasn't stupid. He generally wasn't stupid. Ok, he was scared enough of me to not pull things like that unless he had a good reason. I immediately slid into the con, snuggling against him and whispering seductively in his ear.

 “You've got exactly one sentence to explain to me what the hell you think you're doing or I will let the shaved gorilla at the door know that you're trying to take liberties with me. And if that doesn't work, I'll pay off one of the cigarette girls to tell him the same.” I kept a soft smile on my face, and continued to keep a check on my target. Whatever Eddie's current malfunction, I had a job to do.

 “You've got a hit on you and I got wind someone's planning on collecting tonight. Explanation enough?” Eddie sounded genuinely concerned, which caused me to worry. After dating the man for two years and being married to him for a third, I had a pretty decent idea when he was trying to pull a con. This wasn't one of those times.

 “...How did you...wrong question. Can you get me out of here?” My target was now the last thing on my mind. The job had only paid a grand anyway. I kept looking about the lounge, trying to take in any change in situation. The only thing I saw was the next singer getting on stage after the last singer's set.

 “Only if we move now,” he began scooting out of the booth, leaving a few bills on the table. The situation had to be serious if Eddie was paying for my drinks. He glanced towards the stage with a scowl, which caused me to glance towards it curiously as I followed.

 “...Really, Eddie? With everything, you take a moment to admire? Good to know some things never change.” If it had been anyone but that singer on stage, I'd have let it go. It wasn't any other lounge singer, though, and since she was looking particularly intense, I felt the need to comment.

Eddie didn't respond, which I should have realized was odd. He grabbed my hand and began to tug me towards the door. I opened my mouth to comment on his obvious skill at subtlety when Candy began to sing. Her voice filled the room far more powerfully than the singer before her, and I noticed too late the gentle vibrations of the threads being plucked.

An intense desire to get the hell out of the lounge fought against an equally intense desire to throw myself at Candy's feet and begin offering to worship the ground she walked upon. Her spell shouldn't have affected me, but that fact was about as useful as a knife without a blade. I could feel the clouding of my mind, not powerful but enough to keep me rooted in place. The worst part about it was the realization that Eddie had been right. She really was a very intense lounge singer.

I felt Eddie grab me, but I pulled away. I was slowly but steadily losing control of my own body, and it moved in spite of my internal struggles. I could see only Candy within my vision, the glow of her blond hair, her form far more beautiful than any human woman's could hope to be. This was it, I told myself. After everything, I was going to become a lounge singer's toy. My entire world began to slow as my body moved towards the stage, and the part of my brain that was still conscious knew that the rest of me had fully fallen sway.

The world snapped back to normal with the sound of shattering glass. I tried to connect the sound to something, and my mind found fire. The fire that was beginning to climb up the curtains on either side of the stage seemed quite hot and hungry. Why was there a fire on the curtains? I felt someone grab my wrist, and my mind snapped back into control of my body as Eddie hauled me towards the door. Screams of panic and surprise filled the smoky lounge, shouts of accusation and pleas to put the fire out.

We moved through the hallway that would take us outside, only to be stymied by the gorilla. I reached for my gun on instinct, only to remember that I'd had to give it up at the door. I began to panic, trying to figure out how I was supposed to get past the bouncer with no weapon, no connection to the threads, and the panic and chaos of a fire behind me.

Eddie had no such problems. He moved in before the gorilla had a chance to look intimidating, and swung a stiff right hand into his face. He followed up with a punch to the gut, and as the bouncer doubled over Eddie kneed him in the face. That knocked the bouncer down, and Eddie followed up with a kick to the head for good measure.

 “Get your gun and let's go!” Eddie screamed at me, his gaze looking back down the hallway. He didn't have to tell me twice. I reached for the cubby where the bouncer had placed my trusty revolver, pulling it out just as people began running down the hall after us.

As soon as I had my gun, Eddie and I were out the door. Less than a minute after that we were piling into a taxi that had generously responded to our hails, and immediately after that we were rushing away from the lounge as quickly as the cabbie could take us. It was the quickest I'd ever gotten a cab to stop for me, I confess. I'd have to try standing in the middle of the road again next time I really needed one.

* **

 “Ok, Eddie” I began as the cab pulled away from the lounge, “As I was saying the first time around. What the hell is going on?”

 “You remember Two Tone Tony?” Eddie didn't give me a chance to insult the man before continuing. “He owed me about a dozen and a half favors and paid them back by letting me know someone put a contract on you and that someone at the lounge was going to collect tonight. That was all I got.”

 “And you didn't pump him for more information?!” I looked at Eddie incredulously, trying to figure out exactly how a con-artist of his caliber could be so stupid.

 “You should be glad I didn't! If I'd stopped to pump him for information, I'd have been too late to stop Candy from grabbing you. What the hell was that, anyway? I thought ritualists were immune to mind control?” He looked genuinely confused, and I didn't blame him. I was a little confused myself. There were a very few styles of demons that could bypass a ritualists' natural mind-control resistance to some degree, but they almost never had any reason to take part in human affairs. Since they tended to lack the need to eat, sleep, or otherwise sustain themselves in a human way, I couldn't imagine what the contract was offering as payment.

“I don't know, unless Candy was a demon. Did you see any teeth down there when last you checked?” No, I'm not still bitter, why would you ask? Eddie rolled his eyes.

“We so do not have time for that, Sam. We need to figure out how to cancel the contract, and I don't know how to track down Tony again. He said something about skipping town after he dropped off the message.” Eddie glanced towards the cab driver, to make sure said driver was politely not paying attention like he was being paid to do. All evidence suggested he was a good cabbie.

“Of course you don't.” I looked to the cabbie. “Fifth and Mason. The less time, the more we pay you.” I looked back to Eddie, grabbing his hands roughly. They were calloused and rough, and the feel caused me to remember all sorts of things that weren't pertinent to the situation. I ignored them. “You, keep me stable.”

“...Sam, we're in a damn car. Can't you wait until...” Eddie began in his traditional whiny way, but he at least began sliding off his utility vest.

“No I can't. We're going to my office just so I can pick up a set of clothes. You and I both know that if we wait, we'll lose a bead on him.” Without a word more, I began to chant. I felt the heat of the threads rush to me powerfully, and for a moment my insides began to sear. A moment more and I felt them cool as Eddie pulled the energy away from me. It wasn't as good as the last time I'd pulled this trick, but the last time I'd been with a master of magical knowledge. This time I was with my half-trained spellboy of an ex.

As I'd suspected would happen, the heat of the threads caused my clothes to burst into flame and then burn to ash, leaving my skin pink and tender. I heard the cab driver yelp in surprise, but I didn't feel the cab swerve. I would have to remember to tip the man. Within a few more minutes, I was connected to the criss-crossed mystical threads that made up all ethereal reality.

I looked to Eddie's life thread, trying to find the connections to other life threads. Under normal circumstances, trying to track someone via someone else's life thread was dangerous and stupid. You could cause the person who's thread you're tracking from to seize up and die, and it wasn't even assured of getting results. Eddie didn't know that, though, and I didn't feel the need to tell him. If I screwed up, he wouldn't be in a position to care.

I felt Eddie's hands tense and tighten as I gently touched his life thread. I heard him ask what the hell I was doing, but I was too busy to respond. With as much care and tenderness as I could muster, I began to follow his life thread, looking for all the life threads he'd interacted with in the past few hours. I didn't know Tony very well, but I knew enough to make a guess.

The cab pulled to a stop, but I was too distracted with my work to do anything. Eddie was on the ball, however, and mentioned to the cabbie that he had to run inside to get money and clothes. The cab driver started to argue, but realized that with both his clients naked and covered in ash, he was probably just as happy if we ran off.

It took me about ten minutes to find the location of Tony, and I didn't like what I'd found. If I was right, Tony's thread was beginning to fray. That meant someone had gotten to him first. Eddie came back to the cab just as I let my consciousness snap back into my body.

“South side. Why did it have to be the south side?” I muttered as I grabbed the robe Eddie offered to me. I brushed the ash off my lap before pulling the thing over my head.

“But you found him?” Eddie responded, pulling on a shirt. He should have been thanking me for not giving his stuff back to him after the divorce. He'd have had to run around naked otherwise.

“For the moment. His thread is fraying.” I looked to the driver. “Start moving, I'll give directions.”

I love when cab drivers don't ask questions.

* * *

Fifteen minutes and three hundred dollars later, Eddie and I were running through the maze of alleyways that made up downtown Sonyar City. The asphalt was cold and damp on my feet, and more than once I stepped in a puddle of something that was better off unidentified. My body was beginning to feel uncomfortably hot from being connected to the threads for so long, but I didn't feel confident enough to let go. The threads vibrated as I ran, moving to stick with my body before snapping back into place as I left. I knew it would make me easier to track, but I just didn't have the luxury of staying still. I just had to hope that knotting my threads would be enough.

We reached the area I'd felt Tony, but all we found was another empty alleyway. You can imagine precisely how happy that made me. To Eddie's credit, I didn't even have to yell at him. He began looking into nearby dumpsters and behind piles of trash.

“Found him,” he said after a minute. He hefted a limp body from out of a dumpster, and I had to cover my nose from the stench. The smell of death mingled with the smell of weeks old garbage, and I don't mind admitting that I almost vomited.

I was about to give Eddie orders again, but he began searching Tony's body unprompted. It was almost as if he really wanted me to not die. It was sweet, but he was still scum. While he searched the body, I began to search the threads connected to Tony's corpse. There didn't seem to be any kind of murder weapon. No poisons, nothing physical with which to track a killer. I checked what remained of his life thread, hoping to find any kind of information.

I found it, all right. From up close, I could see the details that a long-distance searching denied me. The thing wasn't just frayed, which suggested a long, drawn out death. There actually seemed to be strands of the thread missing. The healthier a thread, the stronger it is, the more rope-like it becomes. Life threads tended to be fairly thick, with multiple strands. Tony's thread missing strands meant someone or something had drained him.

“...There's strands missing, Eddie.” I can only presume my voice sounded as fearful as I felt. Things that could drain life energy were rare, and powerful. Eddie's eyes widened at my words.

“That means...what, wraith? Vampire? Or...”

“Or a succubus, yeah. Or something even more esoteric, but if it's one of those then we're both fucked more than intense lounge singers.” I kept inspecting Tony's life thread, hoping to find some hint of how to track down his killer.

“Would you let that go, geez! One time, Sam! Once!” To his credit, he was still searching Tony's multitude of pockets as he spoke.

“And then she tried to kill me. So sorry if I'm feeling just the tiniest bit upset.” Of course, that wasn't the real truth. The real truth was that, unless Eddie found something worthwhile on Tony, there was only one lead we had. My desire to track down Candy and deal with her was low.

“I get that. But can we try to remember that I saved your life tonight? Maybe?” Eddie gave a grunt of disgust as he pulled a wallet from Tony's pocket. He opened the thing, and searched it quickly before throwing it aside with a scowl. “There's nothing on him. Didn't even have cash in his wallet.”

It figured. Eddie looked to me as if asking what our next step might be. I deftly busied myself by disconnecting from the threads. Being connected wasn't helping me any at the moment, and even with the robe it was beginning to get uncomfortable. Sadly, that only bought me a minute of silence before I had to come to grips with the obvious.

“You know how to get in touch with Candy, right?” I asked Eddie, trying not to sound as upset as I felt. Given the look Eddie gave me, I presume I failed.

“Would you let it go, Sam!?” Eddie almost, but not quite, yelled in exasperation. “It was a year ago, and...”

“She's our only lead, Eddie.” I spoke through clenched teeth, hoping he'd get the picture. “And I don't particularly feel like letting this sit for hours on end. I've already botched one job tonight, I don't feel like getting killed on top of that.”

“So go to the person who tried to collect on the contract? That sounds like a great idea!” Eddie seemed less than confident in my plan. I couldn't imagine why.

“Do you have a better one?” I reached out and slapped my palm against his forehead. “Only other lead we had is dead from drainage. We could beat the streets and take who knows how long. What's my other option, skip town? We don't even know how much the contract was paying, but we both know I don't have the money to hide out.”

Eddie rubbed his forehead, scowling in that way he scowled when he knew I was right but didn't like to admit it. For good measure, I slapped his forehead a second time, daring him to disagree with me. For a moment, he looked as though he might. Then he shook his head. I'm not ashamed to admit, I was glad he didn't keep arguing. Slapping his forehead was something I hadn't done since we were married, and I wasn't entirely certain why I'd made such a familiar gesture.

“Good to know some things never change. Should have left you in the damn lounge, I swear.” He sighed heavily, and for a brief moment I felt the urge to kiss him. That moment passed as I remembered that he's my ex-husband for a reason. “She used to have an apartment in uptown, not too far from the lounge. That was a year ago, though, so I don't know if that's still true.”

I nodded, biting my bottom lip. The beginnings of a plan were starting to form, but it relied on too many variables out of my control. Still, things were starting to add up. The ability to get around my natural resistances, finding Tony with his thread drained and frayed, they were major clues. There were still a few things that didn't make sense, though. I looked back to Eddie, noticing his baby blue eyes as I did so. Still as gorgeous as the day we met. Then I caught myself, because those thoughts were completely useless and a little strange.

“When Tony gave you that information. How? How did he find you? What did he say?” There had to be some kind of connection. If I could find it, I'd have a better idea of what the hell was going on.

“He said 'word on the street's that someone put a hit on your old lady, and someone's planning on collecting tonight at the Kit Kat Lounge'. I was at my apartment at the time, didn't think much of it.” He shrugged, his broad shoulders flexing a touch as he did so. I kicked myself for thinking about that. “I'm not the hardest man to find for certain contacts, and like I said, he owed me a dozen and a half favors. Doesn't seem too far off the wall that he'd tell me that as a way to pay me back.”

It did seem to make sense, but something about it still seemed weird. I knew that if I could just stop thinking about running my finger along Eddie's well sculpted chin, I could figure it out. That was when the pieces fell into place. The drained life thread, tracking down Eddie to tell him about me. Even Eddie charging to the rescue. It was a good theory, but it hinged on one piece of information.

“You had sex with her more than once, didn't you?” The question may have come out a touch more vitriolic than I'd intended, I'll admit. Eddie's jaw dropped in shocked frustration.

“Now I have to apologize for things I did after I signed the divorce papers?! Come on, this is almost an obsession!” He threw his hands into the air, clearly annoyed.

“That's what I thought. See if you can find out if her apartment is still where you think it is.” He looked like he was about to argue, so I emphasized my order by pointing. “Go. Now!”

He looked like I'd kicked his puppy, but he ran off. I felt bad, but I needed him gone. The last bit of information had clicked everything into place. Only a limited number of things could drain life energy and bypass a ritualist's natural resistances. The fact that Eddie had slept with her more than once, combined with my suddenly wanting to drag him to the ground and rip his clothes off, gave me the rest of the information I needed.

I turned towards the mouth of the alleyway and began to move quickly. I didn't stop until I found a payphone, at which point I realized that Eddie had all the money. The night was not working out in my favor. I picked up the receiver, and dialed a series of numbers to let the telephone gnome know I owed it a favor while praying to every ethereal being that it wouldn't be annoyed about my phone bill back home. I breathed a sigh of relief as the phone began to ring.

“Sammy?” Billy's voice answered on the fourth ring. “This is a surprise. I wasn't expecting to hear from you for at least another month.” I chose not to ask about the details.

“Billy. I need you to anchor my life thread to something poisonous.” It was a risk, but it was the best idea I had on short notice.

“...Sammy, you know how incredibly dangerous that is. Plus, my...”

“I swear on the ethereal planes that if you mention your non-interference vow I will feed you your own eyes!” I didn't mean to be rude, but I was a little frantic. The plan was risky at best, and if Eddie came back while I was discussing it then Candy might know the details. I took a deep breath to calm myself before speaking again. “You're not interfering. It's no different from giving me a tool.”

“There's still the danger. Sammy, whatever I attach it to is going to eat you from the inside out. Surely there's another way.” For all Billy's strangeness, for all the risks I knew he took in the pursuit of magical knowledge, he sounded genuinely worried. That alone should have given me pause. It didn't, but it should have.

“Not if you knot it, first. And before you say anything, yes, I know it'll make me slow and lethargic. It's a risk I'm willing to take.” I looked around to make sure Eddie wasn't coming.

“...I'll have it done within twenty minutes. Sammy...promise me you know what you're doing.” He sounded so worried that I couldn't bear to upset him any worse.

“Absolutely. I'll be just fine.” Naturally I lied through my teeth. I hung up the phone, and began to move back to where we'd found Tony. As I suspected, Eddie was waiting there for me.

“Where'd you go?” He seemed innocently curious, but every question he asked was suspicious now. I had to be careful with my answers, though Eddie's somehow even more rugged than usual physique wasn't making things any easier.

“Called a friend on the force. Someone will be by to clean up Tony soon, we should be gone by then.” Of course, then I felt bad about leaving Tony to rot. I soothed my guilt by reminding myself that he'd once stolen a bottle of my whiskey.

Eddie nodded, and began moving for the mouth of the alley. I walked with him, biting my inner cheek to keep myself distracted from watching the view as he walked in front of me.

* * *

We called a cab, and I let Eddie give the driver instructions. The lethargy kicked in a few minutes after we had driven off, and I decided to cover it up by leaning against Eddie's shoulder. It served a dual purpose, since it suggested I was falling for the ruse. The fact that Eddie didn't even question surprised me not at all.

We arrived after almost twenty minutes, at which point Eddie paid the driver and we got out of the cab. The building was an older one, made of brown stone with red trim along the overly elaborate roof. It was four stories, and the steps leading up to the front door were wide and deep, giving the appearance of elegance. I confess, I was expecting it to look a little more like a brothel.

I leaned heavily against Eddie, even going so far as to slide my arm around his waist. I consoled myself with the story that I was doing it for the con, but with how tired and out of sorts I was feeling, I wasn't sure how true that was. Still, the lethargy was better than whatever poisons Billy had hooked my life thread to. Probably. Eddie held me up without a comment, simply gripping me around the shoulders. At least there was no one on the street at this time of night. It might have made things awkward.

“You know, Sam...we could still skip town.” Eddie's comment came nearly out of nowhere. I say nearly, because while I hadn't expected it, I probably should have.

“Could we, now?” I asked, hoping my voice was not as tired or as snide as it sounded inside my head.

“We could. I've got some cash saved up, we could head off to White Beach. Live it up comfortably in the sand.” He smiled, and I found myself actually considering his words. I again bit the inside of my cheek to distract myself.

“...It's a nice idea, Eddie. But they'd just send someone after me eventually. What apartment does she live in?” I looked towards the building, as much to indicate to Eddie that he should focus on the matter at hand as to remind myself. He sighed, sounding genuinely disappointed.

“Two fourteen, if my sources were correct and honest.” His tone even held disappointment. Of course, if my hunches were right, then not only were his sources correct, but it was no surprise he was disappointed. I would have to do something about that.

“Say, Eddie. You still carry a lightning charm?” I bit back my feeling of guilt, since I knew full well I wouldn't have felt guilty under normal circumstances.

“Huh? Oh, right. Into the lion's den. Yeah, it's still in my front pocket.” He reached into the pocket of his utility vest, and pulled free the palm-sized yellow gemstone. Before he could react, I reached out and grabbed it from him. The look on his face as I shoved it to his chest and activated it made me feel even more guilty, but needing to hop back quickly to avoid the arcs of lightning sparking over and through his body distracted me.

He fell in a heap on the ground, and I knelt down to check his pulse. It was still going, which meant he was only unconscious and not dead. As much as the man annoyed me, I was glad I hadn't killed him. I just couldn't have him hanging around a potential battle ground in his current state.

“Sorry, sweetie. You just take a nap here, alright? Hopefully I'll be back soon.” I patted him on the cheek, and left him crumpled where he lay. I turned towards the building, forcing myself to move at a rapid pace. No doubt Candy knew I was coming, and knew Eddie was unconscious.

I found the front door of the building to be unlocked, which surprised me given the plush carpet of the hallway. The place was obviously higher caliber than my own office building, which would have suggested a better security system. Or at least a locked door. The stairwell was easy enough to find, though I had to use the railing for far more support than made me feel comfortable. And upon arriving at apartment two fourteen, I understood why the front door had been unlocked.

The apartment door was ajar when I arrived, which screamed “you are walking into a trap” in at least three languages. Four, if you spoke fluent paranoia. Still, I didn't see any other choice available to me. I just hoped my current plan would save me. With only a moment's hesitation, I pushed the door open and stepped inside the darkened apartment.

As soon as I did, the door slammed shut behind me. I should have known better than to step out of the doorway. The darkness disappeared as candle light flared, showing me dozens of elaborate candle holders spread about the room. The scent of honey and lavender wafted past my nose, which resulted in my knees feeling even weaker. The apartment seemed to be a single room, sparsely decorated other than the candle holders. The central piece seemed to be a couch, covered with a red velvet cloth, upon which lounged Candy herself. She appeared just as picturesque as she had at the Kit Kat Lounge, and I didn't know if I hated her more for that, or for the fact that she was casually laying back in a full on seduction pose. The jury's still out on that; I'll let you know as soon as I hear the decision.

“Samantha, how nice of you to join me.” Candy's voice was smooth and honeyed, and I could feel it tugging on my emotions. “I hadn't expected to see you after you set the lounge on fire.”

“That was Eddie, if you recall.” I spoke with an emotionless tone, most of my energy going to staying standing, and the rest going to ignoring the desires her voice brought out in me. “Speaking of which, nice trick. Using him to seduce me, I mean. Almost worked, except for the part where I'm a lot smarter than that.”

“Yes, I had noticed him dropping unconscious.” Candy's tone was somehow both sad and completely ambivalent. It was a neat trick. “I'd hoped getting rid of Tony would throw you off the trail. I guess I should have listened when they told me about your skill at discerning the threads. No matter. You're here, and your reaction at the lounge made it obvious you're unable to withstand my magical prowess. It will be crude to simply drain the energy of your life thread, but since you refused to let me manipulate you from afar...well, what choice do I have?”

She stood to her feet, and began moving towards me at a slow, nearly seductive pace. It brought to mind a lion or a tiger moving towards its prey, sleek and beautiful as it was deadly. I raised my hand, pointing the lightning charm at her. The charm had been used recently, and probably wouldn't be very effective so soon, but I was reasonably certain I didn't have the energy to get my gun out in time. Not after everything it took to move up the stairs. The act did its job, however, as Candy stopped moving forward. She instead assumed a sad, almost pouty look. Her thick, full lips quivered, and she seemed on the verge of tears.

“...You wouldn't really shoot me, would you, Samantha? When I just want to make you happy?” Her voice tugged at my guts, and I had to struggle just to keep the charm raised. Between my life thread being knotted, and Candy's magic, I failed. I lowered the charm, causing Candy to smile. Ethereal planes be damned, I seemed to feel genuine joy at making the creature smile.

She moved towards me again, this time not stopping until she was so close to me I could claim molestation. She bent over, leaning over me in such a way that I felt her warm breath upon my neck. It sent goosebumps along my skin, and I could feel her pleasure as she inhaled my scent. For a moment, I almost lost myself, but I reigned it back in. No wonder Eddie had been so easily taken, she really was very intense.

“The contract. Who put a contract on me?” I managed to ask in between rapid breaths. While my reactions were completely understandable given the circumstances, they didn't make me happy in the least. It didn't matter that I'd planned for this possibility, the chance that I wouldn't be able to break free of her control magics. It still made me feel slimy on the inside.

“Let's just say, no one on this plane of existence.” She stood up, looking me in the eyes. I wanted to question more, but I couldn't find the words. “Don't worry about it, my pet. In just a few more moments, it will be the furthest thing from your mind.”

She leaned in, and pressed her lips to mine. The feeling brought sheer bliss just as much as disgust, but I could do nothing about it either way. I felt myself lean into the kiss, and for just a moment my worries and cares went away. There was nothing but her, and me, and the warm, fuzzy feelings her kiss brought up in me. I felt her reach inside of me, and felt her unknot my life thread as intimately as a lover sliding off a bra. Then I felt her grab my thread, roughly, which sent me into a fit of convulsions.

I wasn't the only one. Even as I fell to my knees, I could see Candy stumbling back. Her eyes were bulging, and her throat began to swell rapidly. For a few moments, I could feel my own stomach begin to churn, but then the nausea stopped and the lethargy kicked back in. I knew just enough to realize Billy must have been watching my thread for me, but I didn't have time to focus on that. Instead, I reached for the pocket that held my gun.

Candy tried to give me another overpowering look, but without the ability to draw breath it must have been difficult. That gave me time to get my gun out, get my hands around it, and get it pointed.

“When your energy reforms on the other side of the barrier, let whoever wants me know that I am totally crazy enough to poison myself just to kill them. And next time, keep your hands off my husband, bitch.” Without any further words, I pulled the trigger. I watched the blue ball of energy shoot through the air, and watched the demon's head splatter across the velvet lined couch.

I didn't allow myself to feel comfortable until Candy's body melted into goo, and the goo evaporated into ethereal energy. Only then did I begin to concern myself with how much to bill the Kit Kat Lounge for clearing out their demon infestation.

* * *

Eddie was conscious by the time I left the apartment building. I found him pacing in front of the steps, looking like he didn't know whether to charge in with guns blazing, or simply try to sneak in. Upon seeing me, he ran up the stairs and grabbed me in a tight hug before flicking my forehead.

“Ow!” I rubbed at the spot he'd flicked. “That hurt!”

“Oh, and getting hit point blank with a lightning charm doesn't?! What the hell were you thinking? You didn't have any idea what kind of power Candy could have had, and you went in there alone?!” Eddie seemed genuinely worried, which had not been what I was expecting. It made me a tiny bit more sympathetic.

“No. I mean, I went up there alone, but because you were a liability.” His face scrunched up in confusion, so I continued. “She was a succubus, Eddie. That's why I asked you if you'd had sex with her again. Sleep with a succubus and they can manipulate you and others through you for a year and a day.”

“...She was manipulating us?” Eddie looked as though he really had no clue. It was annoying, but it made sense. Candy had been fairly powerful. I probably wouldn't have known she'd been doing it if it hadn't been for my resistance to mind control.

“Well, my first clue was when I wanted to rip your clothes off in the alley.” I began to move down the street, the coolness of the asphalt feeling strangely nice on my bare feet. “Toss that stuff in with finding Tony's life thread drained, and things kind of fell into place.”

“Why? I mean, was she trying to collect on the contract? Seems kind of strange to set us up like that when she could have just killed you at the club.” Eddie began to follow me, which I was fine with for the moment.

“I think she wanted to be more subtle about it. She'd never had been able to take full control of me. There'd always have been a part of me that knew what had happened. If she'd drained me, well, then I'd be dead. But if she'd gotten us to have sex, she could have latched on that way, and I might never have realized it was anything other than my own desires.” The idea disgusted me, but it was a good plan. I had to hand it to her. If she hadn't underestimated how much Eddie normally pissed me off, it might have even worked.

“And the contract? Is that...?”

“I don't know.” I cut him off, because I didn't have an answer for that question. “Candy claimed it was put out by someone not exactly human. She may have been lying. For the moment, I'm going to presume she was, and just wanted a ritualist pet for whatever personal reasons a succubus might want a ritualist pet.”

“I see.” He looked as though he wanted to argue, but didn't know where to start. I was happy with that, since I didn't have any better explanations for him. “So what now?”

“Now? Now I'm going back to my office and going to sleep. Because after everything tonight, if someone wants to kill me? I'm pretty much willing to let them.” I exaggerated, but I was tired.

“...Going home alone?”

I turned, looking at Eddie as he gave me that seductive smirk of his. His dimple showed clearly, and the impish sparkle in his baby blue eyes triggered the memory of all our more fun times together. Plus, he had saved my life tonight, or at least he thought he had. So I did the only thing that felt right.

I slapped him.

Read more Samantha Berg stories!

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2012-08-20 19:27:40
Loving the Samantha Berg series!!! Left me wanting more... much more... like a full novel's worth!

2012-06-09 09:39:56
ccubed98 - Love the Samantha Berg stories - Always fast paced and each one is a unique gem

2012-04-01 07:54:40
Best one yet. Keep 'em coming!

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