MI 6 HQ, London, England, UK Present Day.
Angela Thorne parked her car in the parking garage below the headquarters of MI 6, wondering what the director of the Paranormal Intelligence Division would want with her on a Saturday. For her to be called in on a weekend meant something had happened. That was something important, if not bloody critical.
She had been training her newest troopers when the call came to SAS headquarters in Hereford. She had left on the double to make the drive into London. The city looked nothing like it had in the seventeenth century with its urban sprawl, traffic, and noise. Some ten million people lived here now with its asphalt and concrete. No longer the city with its muddy streets and ramshackle wood-framed houses and buildings.
Even the agency she had worked for since the early days had changed. She had worked with and for MI6 since its founding. Gone were the days of dropping behind enemy lines in the dead of night in Northern France. They replaced it with satellite technology and computers.
Angela sorely missed those days living by her wits and thinking every day could be her last. She was immortal, but a bullet or a knife in the back might still kill her if they did enough damage. Her self-healing would only work so fast.
Attired in her dress uniform, she took off her sand-colored beret when she entered the elevator pushing the button to the sixth floor. As she rode, she ran her thumb across the Regimental badge on the front with its dagger and wings with the motto: Who Dares Wins?
I bloody well hope so. I wonder what has happened now. Angela thought as she ran her ID badge through the scanner and the scanner ran her retina scan. When the computer opened the door a female voice from the mainframe called Iris called out.
“Good morning, Captain Thorne.”
“Bugger off. You bloody machine.” She swore under her breath.
“My, aren’t we testy today? The Director is waiting for you.” The computer replied.
“Any idea what’s going on, Iris?”
“A mysterious package arrived this morning, it’s been scanned for explosives and toxins and has been cleared for receipt. It was delivered to the Director this morning. What its contents are I have no clue.”
“Thank you, Iris,” Thorne replied as she exited the elevator and crossed the operations floor with its cubicles. There seemed to be a lot of activity. Several case officers were making phone calls to their operatives, the rest were bent over the keyboards typing almost frantically. Something was going on.
When she arrived at the Director’s office, she knocked on the door before she stepped through the door to see the elderly director sitting at her desk regarding a package as she drank a morning cup of tea.
When she stopped at a precise three steps from the desk and saluted the older woman waived her off.
“Sit Captain, so good of you to come on such brief notice.” Helen Mayfield said as Angela took her seat.
“What’s going on, madam?”
” This package arrived by private secure courier this morning, as Iris has probably told you. What concerns the department, it was addressed personally to you. Has any adversary of yours from the past have an ax to grind?”
Angela searched her memory. Most of her adversaries were dead or in prison. She couldn’t think of anyone that would send her a package. There were several still at large, but none that she could think of knew of her association with MI six.
“Not any of the living ones, mum. From any of them, I would expect at least a bomb. Iris said the package has already scanned negative for explosives or toxins.”
A curious look came over the older woman’s face as she pushed the mysterious package toward Angela. Pulling a knife from her pocket, she carefully cut the plain brown paper away before handing the wrapper to the older woman. They would analyze the wrapper and everything inside.
The first thing that was revealed was a book with beautifully embossed leather bound in the finest quality leather covered with Roses. At the sign of the Roses, the older woman looked up with one eyebrow cocked before asking a question as she looked at the documents with the book before handing them to Angela.
“What do you know of the Black Rose?”
“Only what I’ve read in the reports and the archives Mum. They're an ancient secret society. A cabal of women who specialize in intelligence gathering primarily through seduction and sexual means."
"Amongst the paranormal community, the Black Rose according to some has almost legendary status. They have a Chapterhouse in central London. Rumor has it it’s a high-class brothel and nightclub catering to the rich, powerful, and the aristocracy, amongst both the humans and the paranormal set.”
The younger woman closed her eyes as she searched her memory before she continued.
“I’ve run into several of the Black Roses agents over my lifetime. They are accomplished, intelligent, and professional. They are also chosen for their physical beauty and skill at seduction. I met one during a mission to Paris when I was in the second Commando.
"I hid out in her restaurant during World War Two in nineteen forty-three. Her name was Anastasia Malice D'Armond, and she catered to the upper echelons of the German Army occupying Paris. I almost fainted when Rommel himself walked in.”
“Field Marshal Erwin Rommel?” The older woman said incredulously.
“The same, she just sat there as cool and collected as she was speaking to any other man. She even got some information out of him and several other officers that were there. She was bloody amazing. Later I learned she was one of the leaders of the French Resistance, passing intelligence back to MI Five.
"At the time I thought she was working for the Office of Strategic Services since when she wasn’t mingling with the Germans, her English was distinctly American. She arranged for me to get back to England after giving me some intelligence that she had gathered on the Atlantic Wall and several German code books. After the war I lost track of her, I thought the Gestapo had caught her.”
The Director nodded as she handed Angela the book and the documents, which included a map of a place that was another legend amongst the paranormal set, Samo’ ana. As she opened the map a card fell out with an address in central London to the chapterhouse. She was looking at the card as her eyebrows crawled off into her hairline.
“Well, Captain, the Rose, if it is Malice, hasn’t forgotten you. This is an incredible opportunity to have an agent inside such an organization. If you pass her tests and I know that, you’ll pass with your skills you could act as a liaison between MI6 and the Black Rose to bring us closer together."
"The Rose has passed us an enormous amount of valuable information over the years. Consider this a formal assignment. At the meeting, you have the authorization to offer a formal alliance. Tell her I said so. She is to contact me if she agrees. Anything else, Captain?”
“You know of the rumor that she’s a Valkyrie, literally the Angel of Death?”
“I’ve read the reports Captain more reason to ask for the alliance and to mind your manners. Go to the club and report when you can. I understand this Samo’ ana is rumored to be on another planet.”
With that said Angela took the book and the documents before standing up and saluting as she turned to walk out the older woman called out.
“Good Luck Angela. Report back when you return.”
“From the looks of things, I’m going to bloody need it.”
Melanie Swanson~ London Chapter House, London England UK
Melanie seethed in frustration as she sat in the corner by herself, pouting. The Black Rose had announced its champions’ trial for formal entry into the Guild and even though she officially belonged she wanted to go through the trial to prove herself to the others that she belonged instead of having everything handed to her because of her bloodline.
She was more than old enough, even though she was two months short of her two hundredth birthday. Melanie had graduated from the Academy on Indari at the top of her class. She wanted to live a little and go on an adventure. She heard all the stories of her mothers and aunts gallivanting across the universe, using the gate under the library at the academy from Fera herself.
Melanie looked down at the tabletop as she thought about her mother’s stubborn refusal to allow her to go. She was an adult now and a full Valkyrie. Her mothers Mist and Sif thought she was still a baby in swaddling clothes.
Gil looked at his eldest daughter with a smile on his face. Melanie and Mist were just alike, even when frustrated. Stubborn as a stone when their backs were put up. It was funny to him to watch them both standing nose to nose. Neither raised their voices; they snarled at each other as Jack chuckled, shaking his head.
“Mist and mini-Mist, neither of them giving an inch,” Jack observed quietly as he looked at the corner that Mel sat in. “She reminds me of you.” He said to his grandson.
Gil just shook his head as he looked at his grandfather. He was right, of course. Mist and Sif's stubbornness was out of love and concern for their eldest daughter’s safety out in the wilds of Samo’ ana. Even Khia herself did not understand what dwelled out there. He agreed with his daughter. She needed seasoning, at least in the trials; there was only a moderate risk to Melanie and as long as she kept her wits about herself, there shouldn’t be a problem.
He walked over to where his wives were standing with Sif trying to calm Mist.
“Melanie has a point. She graduated, and she’s an adult. It’s time to let the little Falcon fly free. We can’t hold her back as much as we want to.” Gil said in an even tone when both of his wives turned towards him.
“He’s right, my love,” Sif told her as Mist let out a gusty sigh.
“Your right as long as Mal has no problem with it, she can go, but I’m going to make her agree to a couple of conditions,” Mist replied after a few moments of silence before walking over to her eldest daughter. When their daughter looked up Mist hugged her.
“I’ll let you go on your first mission under two conditions. First, you are to keep your true self hidden. Your aunt and I have made many enemies over the centuries. They have spread the word of this trial far and wide. There is no telling who is going to show up. Second, if you run into something you can’t handle, no silly stunts, daughter. You will withdraw, no foolish stands, there’s no shame in retreat.
Then Mist held her hands out to embrace Melanie as their daughter whispered in the elder's ear.
“I promise Mama.” She whispered.
“I’ll talk to your aunt; she’ll agree with the conditions I’ve made. Remember them. May fortune favor your sword.” Mist said again before returning to Gil and Sif.
Behind her, Melanie turned as she pumped her fists. Grinning from ear to ear.
“Yes!” she exclaimed.
Saleah sat in the dappled sunlight of the hanging gardens of Egypt.
She thought sadly that they were long non-existent in the modern age, one of her favorite periods when she felt a tug against her mental leashes.
Perhaps she had better check in on her favorite Valkyrie to find the proper ley line crossing she shifted into her favorite rainbow tabby and jumped. Landing four paws firm in front of the doors to the black Rose guild...interesting.
Shifting back into her Human state, she grinned something was afoot. A flier settled into her hand a formal invitation to the champion's Trial.
Had her tail been present, it would have swished in excitement.
Still, she settled her porcelain hand against the dark wood and pushed. Looks can deceive, and this petal looked quite fragile.
In the depths of Maribor, hidden in the shadows of the underwater mountains, the shouts and cheers of the people rang out, signifying the blessings laid upon the upcoming union. The people were thrilled, and relieved, to know that their heir would soon be wed and their kingdom would thrive under that union.
“If they only knew.” Bella snickered, watching the hoity-toity thralls move about below.
Some wore jewels, others wore crowns, but not one of them held an ounce of royal blood within their veins, nor had they toiled in the deep-sea mines to gain their bounty.
“Careful now, we would not want my father catching wind of your wayward words.” His presence made her shiver, the sound of his voice causing the goose pimples to spring up across her tattooed flesh, and it wasn’t joy that brought on these sudden feelings, but fear.
“I have no idea what you are talking about,” Bella replied, trying so very hard to ignore the insolent bastard.
And a bastard he was. The illegitimate half-breed son of the king and one of his many whores. Why the Queen allowed such a blemish to remain in her court was mind-boggling; but then, it wasn’t Bella’s place to question the dealings of the royal court. Her job was to protect them...
“I find it funny...” He paused a moment.
“I do not care what you find funny, or suspicious. I tend to my duty, that is all.”
“And yet they send you away?” He snickered, appearing to her left.
Oh, he was handsome and strong. With light blue hair and eyes, the color of ice, it was no wonder all the females swooned over him; and the wickedly ripped abdominals weren’t too shabby either. Ugh, she couldn’t think like that, not when it was exactly what the son of a …
“To think, you of all people, allowed to leave the pond we call a prison, to venture out into the world above; a world, some of us have not seen in fifteen-thousand years, Bella...”
“Do not call me that.” She hissed at him, temporarily taking her eyes off her ward.
“Oh, right.” He chuckled, shaking his head. “That name is reserved for another set of lips. A more, feminine set.”
“Is there a reason you are up here, Ta’gan, and not down there with the rest of your kin?” She grinned, turning back to the wretched scene below.
“Oh right, you are welcome in the Queen’s court, but not at her table. I forgot.”
“You walk on thin ice, Annabella. I would be careful out there, in the world above. You will be the first to grace the surface with your presence, do not get lost.” He laughed, turning away from her. “I would not want to see eyes filled with tears, every time I looked at my sister.”
That bastard could rot in the Null, and one of these days, Bella hoped she could send him there. He, and that piece of shit prince standing beside Echoria down there.
This was her escape, her sanctuary, and God help anyone who dared enter. She was in the mood for blood.
“Who the hell do they think they are?” She shouted, knowing fine well that her parents were miles away and their sniveling minions could not find her there. She was of royal blood; she could walk the half-mile journey to her secret place; they could not.
“They are your parents.” Came to a reply and Echo whipped around with blade in hand.
“Bella.” She smiled, dropping the blade to her side. “How did you know I was here?”
“You always come to this place when you are troubled.” The female smiled back and accepted the embrace Echo so willingly offered.
“Troubled, is an understatement.” Echo rolled her eyes and gritted her teeth. “There is enough fury within to summon a mighty storm. If they are not careful, said the storm will fall upon the palace.”
“You do not mean that.”
“They are sending you away.” Echo spat out. “To the surface, even. You are my protector...”
“I will not be gone from your sidelong.” Echo felt the arms around her once more, their warmth offering far more than the cool touch of her betrothed.
“I will not stay, Bella. If you leave, I will follow. My name was on that invitation, not yours. It is my right to fight.”
“They do not permit the royal family to fight.” Bella reminded her, with a loving tone to mask the bitter truth. “That is what I am for.”
“But they are sending you away. You are to attend the games in my stead, away, from my side.” Echo was losing her mind. “I cannot live in this place without you.”
“This is your home, Echo.”
“This is my prison. Our prison, and if Lo 'Kal has any say in the matter, will only grow smaller as he urges the court to seek shelter in deeper waters. We will never see the light of the sun; they will never allow us to...”
She stopped short, closing her eyes as she exhaled a deep breath.
“I will not stay behind while you walk the lands above. I will not be his prize, Bella” Echo warned, knowing fine well that there was nothing Bella could do about it.
“I will not suffer his hands upon me when the only hands worthy of such graces, are yours.”
“And I would forever hold you in them if they allowed it,” Bella replied, hanging her head.
“What did Ta’gan say to you when he approached you on the balcony?”
“The usual banter.” Bella sighed, but Echo could tell something was off. “He wanted to rub it in, the fact that you are to be wed in the coming months and I would be far away....” She paused, caressing Echo’s cheek. “I fear he knows...”
“Ta’gan knows nothing.” Echo grinned. “He is nothing more than a bastard.”
“But a bastard with knowledge of such things, Echo...” Bella tried to turn away, but Echo held her close.
“My half-brother bothers you?” Echo smiled, leaning in closer.
“His mere presence makes my skin crawl.”
“Then he must die,” Echo whispered and kissed Bella like never before.
“Just as I meant your hands for my body, so too were my hands meant for yours. My bastard brother will never feel the silky touch of your embrace, nor the sweet taste of your lips.”
“You make promises you know you cannot keep. If they ever found out about us...”
“Like my brother, my parents know nothing.”
“I hope you are right.”
“For far too long they have forced us to hide beneath the surface. These games will bring us closer to those who trapped us here, and in time, our freedom.” Echo whispered, feeling Bella melt in her arms as her lips danced across her neck.
“We will be free of the sea, free to return home, free to love whoever we want...”
“And they say I smoke too much.” Bella laughed, throwing her head back as Echo’s lips draped down across her chest.
“You are mine, Bella, and I would see this kingdom crumble before I let myself be sold off to some Sea-Harpy of a prince.”
“How do you plan to get away?”
“Even now, my parents believe I am on my way to the Cove of Creation to perform the traditional rights. By the time they realize I am not there, it will be too late.” Echo was grinning from ear to ear.
“I have already tendered my registration alongside yours. There is no turning back.”
Bella did not look convinced, but then, she could not argue when her lips were pressed to more intimate concerns. She would follow Echo anywhere, and Echo knew it.
Bryn walked the deck of the Sea Rose, checking the gun for alignment and maintenance. As he walked down the gun deck, he checked each gunner and loader to make sure everything was ready for whatever came their way.
The day before, a merchantman had come alongside delivering provisions and whatever mail and packages the crew had received back in the port of Mist Haven. He had received a parcel but hadn’t looked at it yet. It was still with Nephrami in the acting captain’s cabin.
He walked on up to the helm. The Second of the Sea Rose was standing beside the helmsman as he walked up to the dark angel and saluted.
“Guns ready, Captain.”
“Very Good Bryn, I have something for you. You’ve been noticed by the Rose herself. I would recognize that handwriting anywhere. Follow me.”
He followed Nephrami to the Captain’s cabin, where he had spent a pleasant evening or two with the rest of the senior members of the crew with Belvaya and the First Mate Commander Peiper.
“Any word on Peiper or Bel?” He asked the Angel.
“Not yet, though I expect nothing yet. They are spending little quality time. You know how they are.” Nephrami said as he grinned. Turning around, he pushed the package toward Bryn.
“It’s been a while since the guild has had a trial open to anyone who applies. A couple of hundred years at least.”
As Bryn picked up the package, he examined the handwriting. He had only seen the writing once on letters of mark and official documents allowing the Sea Rose’s privateering efforts against the foes of the Guild.
“At least it isn’t an arrest or death warrant, so I must have pleased the lass a time or two. Bryn joked as he tore the wrapper off as if opening a Yule present.
He had applied months ago for a position in the Guild. It had surprised him when the package arrived. Now that he had it, he couldn’t quite believe that they had selected him out of the hundreds of applicants.
As he looked through the package at the letters and the map of Samo ’ana. Nephrami chuckled which caused Bryn to look up with a boyish grin on his face.
“Keep that optimism Master Gunner, Good Luck in the trials we’ll drop you off at the test site. Stay sharp there’s no telling what mysteries and trials await you. I expect there will be a tale or two to tell when you are done.
“Thank ye, mate. I’ll do the Sea Rose proud.”
Mahrial Di Silvanus stood outside the gates of the Seelie city and felt the harsh wind whip hair loose from the sticks holding it in a bun. She considered, briefly, being bitter, but closed the door to the emotion. Cast out she might well be, but the Queen’s Raven was no traitor.
“Thou art cast off without so much as a horse, Di. Didst thy pride causes thee to expect more?” She asked herself. She shrugged her pack higher on her back and leaned into the dire winter winds of February 1776, climbing down from amongst the peaks of Sterling, Madonna, and Mansfield, heading towards the winter settlements of the humans which had been there three hundred years prior during the last Dwarf War. No awakening dragons sped her feet this time, though, and she breathed deeply of the numbing cold as she went.
The first humans she saw differed from those she recalled, but she thought perhaps their fashions had changed. A polite greeting in the language she remembered them speaking garnered screams of terror and a metal ball skidding across her Dwarven scale mail, propelled by some sort of explosion. She instinctively blasted the human, but held back, puzzled by the terror in... His...eyes.
Mahrial picked up the device, for it was a device, and scrutinized it, not paying much heed to the groaning burnt human at her feet. “What manner of magic is this?”
“You should be dead! Are you a witch or fell ghost of dead savages or demon?”
Mahrial looked at the man again. “Thy words are shaped strangely, but I know them. Again, what is this?”
“It’s a weapon. I would be killed by a stupid demon,” he said.
“You won’t die. How does it work?”
The man would have raised his eyebrows if he had any, but still managed an incredulous look. “I’m not telling a demon any such thing!”
Mahrial felt she might be better able to grasp this twisting of the old language from the humans across the sea. “You are insolent for one who attacked at a greeting.”
“You spoke that savage tongue!”
“You broke the laws of hospitality. By rights your life is forfeit,” she said, but the man had fainted. Sighing, she picked him up, muttered darkly, and tramped back along his tracks through the knee-deep snow. Cresting the subsequent rise, she saw a hut of logs, square, and squat, surrounded by pens stinking of the animals within. Trudging onward, she met a female human at the doorway.
“What happened to Ethan?” The woman wrung her hands as she hurried to approach.
“He was burned. Perhaps by his weapon? You should make sure it works,” Mahrial said. She brought the man inside the tiny structure and set him down on the bed before handing the woman the strange weapon.
The woman ignored the hint to fuss over her mate, at least at first. Satisfied that he would be fine, she examined it. “It looks fine, but fired recently,” she said, continuing to look it over. She fetched metal balls and a black powder out of the man’s belongings, as well as a rag and a rod, and carefully loaded it before suddenly bringing it up to point directly at Mahrial’s face. “Who are you and what did you do to my husband?”
“I am Mahrial Di Silvanus. I greeted him. He used that weapon. I burned him. A little.”
A scratching knock at the door behind them interrupted the tableau. “What do you want Ouiaseaqui?”
“The gods sent a package for Raven of Snow and unlucky, humble Ouiaseaqui has been tasked to bring it,” a male voice replied.
“There're no ravens...” The woman began.
" I haven’t been called that in years. I am she who was once so-called,” Mahrial interrupted, much more familiar with the tongue of the native humans she heard in the man’s accent than that of those in the land lost beyond the Eastern Sea.
The woman jabbed her with the weapon. “Don’t you encourage that gabbling in my house! Are you one of them?”
The door opened, and the woman turned the weapon on the intruder, a slight and sickly human in garb that looked much like that worn by the humans she had met three hundred years prior. He held his hands up imploringly, showing himself harmlessly. “Please, let Ouiaseaqui be rid of the gods’ package, please!”
The woman grunted and gestured toward a rough table with the gun. “Open it and get out.”
Ouiaseaqui whimpered and wept in terror, but did as he was told, cowering from the woman and the book revealed while crab walking out the door to avoid both. The woman inspected the book’s cover but could not open it, nor peel the printed paper from around it. She grunted again when her husband moaned. “Take it and be gone. Before I change my mind.”
Mahrial picked up the book and removed the paper as she left. She was, in some ways, annoyed with herself for not incinerating both of them, but decided that for once she might go a day without killing if the opportunity was going to present itself. She had gotten the information.
The powder explosion propelled the metal - and that was enough to think of having no more blood on her hands.
The paper was strange and thin, and the language twisted again even from what the man and woman had spoken. Annoyed, she pulled out one of her two precious spell books and found a translation spell for herself.
“An invitation? A guild? Hm.”
“The gods gave us the package, Raven of Snow. They have spoken,” Ouiaseaqui said from the far side of a massive maple tree, beckoning her closer.
“My gods are not yours, but it interests me. I will go,” Mahrial replied.