AN: To all my loyal fans and readers out there who have waited WAY too long for this update, I have my sincerest apologies to offer. All of you know that from that one chapter I had written two stories of Get What You Wanted and Take What Is Yours and have been consumed by it. As of late, life has pulled me into it with both hands and held me in place.

While I won't apologize for that, I will say that I can only hope you enjoy this update. This story should be finished within the next chapter or so.

No promises.

Without further delay, allow me to introduce the next chapter.

Your Mistress.

PS-At the end of this chapter, I am including the first chapter of a story Lord Of The Land Of Fire and I have been working on together.

It's called Bloody Mary.

I hope all of you will enjoy it and see the other chapters he has posted on his website, deviant art account, or FictionPress account. There are four chapters so far and I think the story is very good. Please let me know what you think!

The Bet

Ch 23 Do You Forgive Me?

"Impossible."

Moka's lips curled in damning accusation. Kurumu's dark violet eyes softened with her gentle stubbornness, shaking her aqua locks in response.

"I know you don't believe me," The voluptuous succubus began.

"You're lying!" Moka snarled, her very soul aglow in outrageous fire as she snatched her husband's mistress by the collar of her blouse,"He is Tsukune, my mate! My love! My very breath and blood! To even conceive what you are saying as true-"

"It is!" Kurumu interrupted, taking Moka's own collar by her thin fingers. "That night, when we finished making love that night, the most amazing love I've ever had with him," Kurono Kurumu reached out with her fingers, brushing the quivering cheeks of the vampire above her to try and bring a sense of comfort and sincerity to her Destined One's wife still stuck in her disbelief, she continued, "I had never felt so wanted, Moka. Do you know why?"

Her lips moved, fangs pressed over her smooth, pale pink lips to defend her own truths, but as she looked down at her rival from the Academy and appraise the most serene and most placid expression of sincerity that the normally spirited succubus was giving her, Moka decided then and there she needed to listen.

"Why, Kurumu?"

Kurumu's hands traveled up Moka's sleeveless arms, pulling her closer to Kurumu's face, "Because he was ready to move on from you. He was seeking love and pleasure beyond you."

Glaring down, Moka hissed between her teeth threateningly.

"I've always known you would do anything to take my Tsukune away from me, Kurono Kurumu, but this trick of yours won't work." Inner Moka was already pushing herself off of Kurumu, ready to hear another outlandish story or some cry of disappointment to mocking challenge from the spirited buxom mistress.

Then they fell, like perfectly shaped diamonds, like fat raindrops from Kurumu's eyes.

"Trick?" The word sounded so hollow, so utterly devoid of emotion...

"Trick..." Now, there was a sliver of it: feelings, pain, something ripping, shredding, visceral, and raw...

"Trick...trick...trick..." Her voice sounded funny, comical, almost tinted with a little bit of...

Kurumu shot through Moka from the ground like a lightening bolt, pinning her against the tree behind her with power that surprised the usually astute vampiress.

...insanity.

"TRICK!" Large dark violet eyes drilled through Moka's surprised crimson irises, "You think this is a little game? You think I wanted what happened that night! Th-that...LOSS! You think I wasn't at my wits end? You think I had the answers, the right state of mind to do anything but call my mother and cry in a shower till she had to pull me out and take me to the doctor to tell me everything was gone? You think all of that was...was..."

Moka felt Kurumu's claw like fingers grip herself around her middle, her bloodshot eyes looking past Moka, into a memory...

Despite almost losing her breath a little, the silver haired vampiress couldn't help but feel empathy towards her rival.

...that altered things between Kurumu and her Destined One.

"He was supposed to protect me, love me, take care of me...of us."

"Us?" Moka spoke the word softly, barely a breath past her lips. "Who's 'us', Kurumu?"

Large wet eyes answered, "I had thought of names. My mother and I were already looking for toys, clothes, a room...we were already discussing different ways to tell Tsukune...I wanted him to know. I really, really wanted him to be happy about it."

Glancing back at her husband and Kurumu's aunt to ensure they were out cold still, Moka relaxed her husband's most devoted crush away from her stomach to lead her back to where they tumbled into each other.

"What are you telling me, Kurumu? What does any of this have to do with Tsukune wanting to kill me, Shade raping me, and my sister bringing you here?"

Kurumu didn't answer for a while, instead, she just looked past Moka towards the man who had changed her life more than any other person she knew.

"My auntie really did start off having the best intentions," Kurumu began, "I know she is different and extreme, but if you could just see she wanted to help me in her own way, perhaps you could forgive-"

"No," Inner Moka's answer was final. "I WILL not forgive your aunt, Kurumu. Now, if you are here to bide her time, I assure you that you are just wasting it. She...will...pay."

The solemnity of Moka's words brought a weird light to Kurumu's dark violet eyes.

"Then who will make you pay, Aono Moka?"

Moka blinked at Kurumu's tone. It was not often Kurumu used a voice that put Inner Moka on the defensive. It was even rarer so that Moka would take the succubus's threat as seriously as she had.

With the history of what Shade had done to her, her husband in the current state he is in now, and with her sister's involvement, Moka knew she had to listen and listen well.

"Why would I need to pay for anything, Kurumu? I have not harmed you or your aunt. What is the meaning of any of this? What did you mean earlier when you mentioned a doctor and 'us'? What loss, Kurumu?"

Lips quivering, Kurumu couldn't hold back the tears anymore, "Tsukune hurt me."

Moka took what the bluenette said to heart with a dread that echoed everything she just experienced. It was keen and sharp, something horrible and wretched.

It had to be!

"Tsukune wouldn't hurt you, Kurumu. He cares for you and, yes, you annoy us at times, but it's not in Tsukune's heart to ever hurt you enough to send you to the doctors."

Licking her lips, as if trying to say what had been pent up inside of her heart and soul for so long it would be a revelation equivalent to a dam bursting, Kurumu said what she had to...

"That night, when I came to pick him up after you two had fought, he was not himself, Moka. That night when we made love and he fell asleep on me, he was tossing and turning, as if in pain. I called to him, but he wouldn't wake up. Whatever he was suffering, it was dark and deep rooted. So...so I..." Kurumu exhaled carefully, trying to prepare what she was going to say something that would reflect the most horrific night of her life, "...I went into his dreams to see if I could see what he was dreaming about."

Moka listened, her silvery brows furrowed a bit at this new bit of information. "You can do that?"

In response, Kurumu's tail sprouted to snake up in front of Moka, eventually blossoming like a flower to show it's delicate insides.

"With this, I can. I'm still learning but, with this, I am able to link his mind with my own." Rubbing her hands in a nervous gesture, Kurumu's fingers eventually knotted together, bracing herself for her revelation. "It didn't work exactly as I expected it to. I don't know how, but I messed up and...and..."

"And what?"

"...and what I was able to get out was a vision. Pieces of what he was remembering, thinking, enduring-"

"Enduring? What could he possible be having nightmares about? There's nothing I could have done to-"

"Yes, you did!" Was Kurumu's barking reply. "You really, really..." Kurumu exhaled shakily, trembling her voice as she spoke quietly, sincerely, "You did."

Kurumu's distress was real. No matter how much Moka tried to fight the mistress succubus, she couldn't deny what all of her senses were telling her.

"You tore his soul to pieces and when he left you-"

"Left me?" Moka's lips barely let the words pass her teeth. "He never left me-"

"Yes, he did!" Kurumu rebutted accusingly. "That night! When you two were fighting, I heard you mention Gin's name as he came with me!"

Comprehension of what Kurumu was talking about surfaced in Moka's expression. "That night..." A sliver of regret crept into Inner Moka's normally austere voice. "I know what you're talking about."

Now Moka looked away, feeling a taint of guilt in her heart.

"That threat was a mistake," Moka voiced to Kurumu, admitting painfully. "I never should have said it."

Facing the woman who loved her husband as much as she did, Moka eyed Kurumu unflinchingly. "I will never do that again."

Weighing her Destined One's words carefully, Kurumu blue locks flounced as she shook her head. "That doesn't take anything back. You still don't understand."

"What don't I understand, Kurumu?"

Sitting on her bottom like a young girl being scolding, Kurumu covered her eyes and wept. Her heart breaking sobs trickled tears into her thin pretty blouse and onto her bent knees. "You don't understand how much I love him."

Looking down at her, Moka relaxed her hands at her sides, confused and curious as to what her fierce rival for her husband's love was trying to tell her.

"Kurumu," Moka lowered herself to place her hands on her friend and rival's shoulders. "I know you love him. I do, but what does this have to do with-"

Like a whip, Kurumu's tail thrust onto Moka's head like a viper, almost appearing to swallow the silver haired vampiress before she could utter another word.

Moka's eyes went wide with shock, her hand ready to snatch onto Kurumu's fifth appendage to rip it off of her head, but it was too late. Kaleidoscope lights danced in Moka's vampire red slit eyes and whatever physical strength she had was soon swallowed into the world of her own mind.

Kurumu sniffled into her hands, one violet eye peeked open to stare at the waning strength of Aono Moka. Repositioning herself behind her most precious person's wife, she gently pulled Moka onto her lap and glanced out of the corner of her eyes. Just a few feet away from each other, her Destined One and her auntie were off in the world of Illusion doing who knew what.

"It's time you knew...everything."

She was back in this world of color, of light, of ghostly substance and immaterial reality. Everything revealed itself into a hotel room with two people in bed. It was far from something her and her husband would find themselves, but there was no doubt as to whose head was peeking out on the pillow next to Kurumu's aqua blue locks.

He was moaning fitfully in his sleep.

One violet eye opened up next to him, the sheets covering Kurumu fell away to expose her naked full breasts pressing against Tsukune's back.

"Tsukune" She whispered, afraid to wake him up.

The young man flinched painfully, his eyes closing hard, trying to close the images in his mind. "No, Moka...stop..."

"Tsukune, it's me, wake up." Kurumu gave his arm a little shake, but it only made him flinch away from her.

"We can...talk about...it...just...don't...no..."

"Moka," Kurumu murmured, nuzzling her cheek against her beloved's shoulder. "Does this have to do with your fight, Tsukune?"

He shook his head, now starting to bead with sweat. "...please...please...Moka...chan..."

Kurumu was never known to be a bright girl, however that never stopped her from expressing concern or helping a friend or her beloved Destined One if ever the moment arose.

Her coiled tail sprouted from under the sheets, blossoming like some kind of organic four petal'd flower with its delicate insides sticky and lubricated with some viscus liquid.

Kurumu hadn't been properly trained in the technique her auntie and mother tried to show her. It just didn't seem important to the girl who had the honor of being treasured by her Destined One.

The matter was also never pushed.

Placing over her treasured lover's head, Kurumu closed her eyes and pushed her youkai energy into the man's psyche.

The mind scape was a curious place to venture, Kurumu noted. It's not always a place of stars or clouds, running winds or endless seas. Each one was different to the person in front of them.

She also pictured herself as she saw herself in his mind.

Blue haired, busty, curvy, minute in stature and devilishly gorgeous...with the exception of fairy wings instead of batlike wings.

The first thing she noted was that all around Tsukune's mind was this endless tape from an old projector reel she had once seen. An endless horizon of it was spread before her, every now and then a screen would pop up and there was a flash of memory being played.

His first time arriving at Youkai.

The first time he pulled off Moka's rosario.

When Tsukune met all of his harem lovers, herself included.

The times he would unintentionally catch glimpses of exposed underwear or soft curves of a woman's bust.

It made her giggle that as much as he denied himself and to others, he was still a man at heart who had a healthy appetite for the visual appeal of a woman's body.

A few nice flashes on screens were of Kurumu pouncing him and burying him ear deep into her breasts.

While there was always some kind of excuse for suffocation or someone trying to 'save him' from his pillowy demise, in Tsukune's mind, Kurumu was quite sure she could 'feel' him think how lucky he was.

"He totally loved it." She thought proudly, giving her 'girls' an appreciative pat.

Still, none of these screens were answering her questions. Curious, she flitted about from one to another when she came upon a vault. All around it was a feeling of foreboding, something sinister, something evil. Something...

...unsafe.

What was it?

Curious still, Kurumu approached it. There were no doors, no hinged gateway that showed a way to enter.

Only a Mirror.

Kurumu liked mirrors...except Lilith's. That one she could stay away from.

Coming before it, she took an appraising look at the spectacular beauty before her, an exact copy of herself grinning cheekily back. Turning her cheek left and then right, combing her fingers through her aqua locks till they cascaded down over her bare shoulders, she saw her own violet eyes inquisitively look at it as if some oddity. Slender fingers slid over the slight lip of the four corners, checking for any hint or clue of how to get inside of place of secrets.

A Pandora's Box.

Curiosity began to consume her as well as worry.

"Moka...chan..."

From out of the air, her beloved Tsukune's voice filled the endless reels clicking about their gears, screens filled with images of his pasts.

On one screen, she saw it like a shadow in her peripheral...

It was Inner Moka.

The sleek silver hair falling in perfect strait locks fell about her stoic face in a majestic mane. Red, red eyes like fire and judgement scowled back at Kurumu as it did nothing more then stare...

...weighing her...

...considering her...

In a weird way, Kurumu noticed in all of the memories on display, one thing she was certain of.

They were all lacking love.

So, if that was the case, why was this one screen displaying Moka in a light that seemed to be...

...damning her...

It made her flinch away from the mirror when, in its reflection, another image appeared on a reel.

The same person, Inner Moka with her hands on her hips, scowling back at Kurumu.

"Moka...chan...stop..."

It was Tsukune's voice and there was no doubt her Destined One was still asleep and, by the sounds of it, he was in pain.

"...please...don't say those things..."

Another screen appeared around her, this time with Inner Moka's back to him.

"...I love you, Moka-chan. Don't..."

Another.

"...make...me..."

Then another.

"...choose..."

All around her, there were screen shots of Inner Moka. Each one a figment of austere distaste and dominant refusal. Each one made Kurumu flinch back in worry.

Where had her beloved seen these images?

Each one was an emotional slap in the face.

She could feel it.

It was all over the place now, surrounding her, suffocating her in Kurumu's heart, in her beloved's Tsukune's mind.

It made every part of her heart ache with how much she wanted to help him.

But how?

Glancing back at the mirror, Kurumu had a thought. It was a weird thing to consider, but with this very real pain in her Destined One's soul, she wanted to do something.

Anything.

So, as she approached the mirror again, she closed her eyes and focused. When her eyes opened, looking back at her was no other than a long platinum tress'd aristocratic proud head of hair that fell to the back of her naked hamstrings.

"Moka...chan?"

This time, there was recognition in her beloved's dream scape.

The vault that had been sealed tight dissolved away, revealing a little boy. Hunched over into a little ball, weeping quietly into his dirty fists, it looked for all intent and purposes as if he had just been beaten up. Bruises and welts covered his little arms, hair had been coated with blood where he had been bludgeoned with something hard, scrapes and little scabs dotted his legs as he tried to cover his weeping eyes.

Without a doubt, Kurumu recognized him in an instant.

In a voice that was her victorious rival's but as soothing as a woman who loved could muster, Kurumu spoke to him. "Tsukune-kun?"

He scrambled away from her as if he was about to be lit on fire.

"I'm sorry!" He crossed his arms in front of his face, protecting himself from the very sight of her. "I didn't mean to! I never meant to! I'm sorry! I'm sorry!"

This was the heart of his pain, she realized.

"I'm sorry, Moka-chan," The voice echoed inside the world of screens and reels.

The words 'I'm sorry' printed themselves in all languages from English, to Kanji Japanese, to Cantonese Chinese, to French, to German...all saying the same thing.

I'm sorry.

Still curious but worried for him, Kurumu slowly approached him, watching him as he continued to try and hide himself as much as he could from behind his little hands.

"What are you sorry for, Tsukune?" The throaty voice of Inner Moka inquired softly.

He just shook his little head, trembling and hyperventilating as he sobbed.

Putting herself close enough to touch him, 'Inner Moka' reached out and gently took one of the little boys hands and, despite his protest, had a cloth damp with medicine appear to touch his wounds.

It made him wince in pain.

"Shhhh...there there, Tsukune. This will make it feel better."

Little by little, his wounds started to visibly heal. Upon closer inspection, she realized these wounds weren't from someone else, but from him.

He did this to himself. It worried her.

She had yet to look at his face, but he had not fought her to let him wipe at his wounds. Little by little, she healed him and, as motherly and lovingly as she could, she leaned behind him and hugged him.

It looked as if he wanted to jump out of his skin.

She held him tighter.

"There, Tsukune. I'm here for you...I'm here for you..." She whispered in Inner Moka's most loving voice. "Whatever it is you're sorry for, I promise I will forgive you."

Sniffling through his nose, one grubby knuckle came up it as he asked nervously, "You...promise?"

Nodding her proud head, she kissed his shoulder and pressed her naked breasts against his back. "I love you, Tsukune. I would forgive you of anything."

No sooner had those words spoke when she felt the little boy disappear in her arms as if he never existed. Looking at her empty hands speculatively, she looked about herself and the world of reels and screens filled with the image of Inner Moka's fierce gaze.

One by one...

Fire...

Black, raging fire...

Screens...

Became fire...

Flashes of Moka...

Inner Moka...

On fire...

Inner Moka...

Bleeding...

Inner Moka...

On Screens, screaming...

On screens, groaning...

Inner Moka...bleeding...

Inner Moka...being ripped apart...

Fire...being lit on fire...

Water...burning her...

Suffocating her...with water...

Laughing at her...

As she was bleeding...

Claws with talons raking across her body, spilling her innards like an animal on a spit!

In the back of Kurumu's mind, still looking like Moka, shock wouldn't even begin to clearly express what kind of soul impaling mauling she could feel.

"If you won't allow me to raise my child as I see fit, Tsukune, than I will find someone who will."

It was her voice...

No, not her voice, but Inner Moka's. That voice had said those things, to him! Her most cherished person and this woman, his wife, had dared to say those things to him! Why?

"I know Gin has always been interested in me."

In pictures here and there, a dotting of Gin and Moka kissing, embracing...

"Stop..."

His voice, echoing in the world now consumed with fire and melting reels. Black, inky smoke spilled out everywhere, screens became infernos as images of Moka and Gin touching each other.

"...I love you, Moka..."

Their clothes were coming off...

"Moka, can't you see..." His voice was surrounding her, getting louder...

So very loud!

"I'm sure if I ask him, he won't mind giving me what you won't, Tsukune."

"...what you are doing to me!"

Tsukune's voice became a bellows, making the pyres of fire raise high into the eternal darkness above in an instant flash of pain and abject anguish!

Kurumu covered her face and her eyes as she ducked under her arms. Around her was this heat, this amazing billows that promised to consume her soul and her mind.

What madness!

What utterly cruelty and loathing! It was all around her and it was directed towards her! The very weight of it became bare to her and there was nothing she could do to protect herself with!

All of her training to enter a person's mind and none of it involved on how to keep her safe.

She was at his will, his whim.

Why had Moka done this to him?

Two red eyes looked down at her from the dark heavens.

His eyes, two red, red eyes of anger and accusation glowered at her. In a voice larger than the universe spoke and it make her quake to the marrow in her bones.

"You promise to forgive me?"

Whimpering in fear, Moka's image with Kurumu's soul looked up into the sky with wet tears staining her cheeks.

Nodding, with her streamer length silver hair rippling with her movement, Inner Moka's voice said, "Yes. I will."

As if someone turned off a switch, everything went black.

Nothing...absolute nothing could be felt. No substance, no floor, no air, no wind, no...anything.

And just as quick...

Kurumu gasped back into the reality of her world, her tail gone from where Tsukune's head had been.

He was sitting up, staring at the wall across from her.

Catching her breath and covered in sweat, she reached out to touch him.

It was him.

"Tsukune-kun?"

It wasn't her voice.

What happened?

Looking down at herself and the mirror, near her, she was surprised to see not only the reflection of herself...

In that same mirror, she saw two people in an obscene twist of limbs and genitalia, grooming each other's mouths with lapping tongues and erotic moans of sexual pleasure.

...as Inner Moka.

In the reflection of the Mirror was an image of Outer Moka and Gin, going at it with a gusto of two people in love and famished for the other. The bed squeaking, the scent of sweat and intimate fluids was smothering, and the heat of their bodies was radiating...

Turning to the bed where Tsukune had sat, was now occupied with Gin and Moka, growling hungrily as they feasted on each other, him fucking her with all of his might and her Inner, pink haired self absolutely adoring it.

"Moka-chan," Tsukune's voice appeared behind her, scaring her.

"Tsukune?" Kurumu voiced with Inner Moka tone tried to focus herself out of this, try to run away and pull herself out of this nightmare that Tsukune had pulled her into, but it was obvious he wouldn't let her.

"Moka-chan,"

Craning her neck around, the person before her wasn't Tsukune...but some vile, twisted version of his ghoul self with his vampire self. Something black and sinuous, with veins of red orange thick blood pulsing over naked skin.

"Tsukune," Now...she was scared.

Very, very scared.

"Do you want to know why I want you to forgive me?"

Swallowing her breath, Inner Moka with Kurumu's mind nodded earnestly, still in disbelieve what was transpiring next to her.

It isn't real, it isn't real, it isn't real! Kurumu told herself, yet...

A thick, charred black hand gripped her neck so hard she could hear her vertebrae protest in cracks.

Back at the hotel room where Kurumu and Tsukune still lay in bed with the succubu's tail attached to him, Tsukune own hand reached out and grabbed the bluenette's neck in an iron strong grip that made Kurumu's eye's pop open and gurgle an attempt to breath.

Fighting him to open his fingers, Tsukune was still asleep and his eyes closed.

Lifting himself off the bed and taking Kurumu's small, curvy frame from touching the mattress of the bed, he cried with a loud scream that promised wake the neighbors up and down the hall.

Kurono Kurumu was literally slammed bodily into the solid floor with a body shattering crash!

Something torqued in Kurumu's shoulder and her breath left her in a woosh. Her eyes danced with stars and her womb that held her child...

...their child...

...could noticeably rebound in side of the back of her spine.

She tasted blood.

Eyes still closed, Tsukune's face was grim as he said, "I'm going to kill you, Moka-chan."


You can find the story Bloody Mary at storiesfromlotlof dot com or on Lord Of The Land Of Fire's Fiction Press dot com account.

Here is a link: www. Fiction press s /2870112 /1/ Bloody_Mary

I hope this helps!


Novel Preview: Bloody Mary

Author's Note: This story is being co-written with 'Mistress Winowyll.' Though this is being posted here it belongs to her as much as it does to me.

Boston, Massachusetts

April first.

One year ago.

It was like a scene from some macabre play. There were bodies scattered up and down the streets. Car alarms were blaring, mixing with the sound of human cries and pleas for help. Smoke was still floating in the air; people were running around terrified and confused, dashing from one place to the next. Wounded or the simply dazed staggered about calling for help or seeking out some place of safety. Others lay in the street, bloodied and broken.

To Mary they were all nameless, faceless strangers. All except for her fellow students.

In one spot, she found several mannequins that were dressed for a spring sale in Versace blouses and skirts scattered about a Wendy's parking lot. She wondered if the company would consider beneath their usual clientele.

Screams… so many people screaming and begging for help. There were those who had kept their heads and were shouting to try and get people to calm down. They were mostly ignored as people were too panicked to listen or calm down. In the distance there were gunshots, likely from police trying to deal with the remaining monsters that had invaded downtown Boston and turned it into this horror.

The corpses of monsters mixed with humans, though the latter were in far greater number. Body parts littered the ground and shattered glass crunched under her feet with every step. Everything was chaos; the ordinary world was long since gone.

This was an 'Incursion.' That was what they called it whenever monsters appeared in a town or city. Most incursions usually involved only one or two creatures though. Hundreds, maybe up to a thousand, had appeared here today. Far more than the ordinary authorities could ever hope to deal with. A desperate appeal had been sent out to all the local mages as well as to the local Academy.

The Academy students along with the true mages had finally killed them all, the goblins, the dire wolves, the orcs, and the handful of more powerful creatures like werewolves and vampires. But it had not been easy and it had not come without a cost. Thousands of ordinary people had been butchered while dozens of mages and magic users had died trying to protect them. Except for a scattered remnant all the monsters finally seemed to be dead though. Around her a dozen of her peers kept a careful watch. They were hovering close by to protect their precious healer.

She was kneeling down on the broken glass somewhere on Newbury street, the sharp edges cut and ground into her. Lying in front of her was a man in a tailored pin stripe silver and French cotton suit. Marcus was barely conscious, the blood spilling out of him like a slowly leaking can. For once all the arrogance was gone from him. His dismissive, handsome blue eyes were looking up at her, pleading.

"Please Mary," he whispered, his breath coming out in a labored pant. "Don't let me die."

Calmly Mary took out a switchblade and cut both of her own hands. She planted them on his chest over the horrible gash. Her palms were slit down to her wrists to offer her blood to mix with his. His wound was deep and fatal, but she knew she could fix it. Mary dug in her nails, slowly and deliberately adding just slightly to his pain.

A small part of her thought back to the times when Marcus would scold her or mock her for ruining the expensive clothes he got her, he would lecture her about Italian silk and about designer originals. What would an ignorant, back country hill billy know of the value of a quality item in the first place? Mary thought of how he ignored her, and how he would never touch her unless it was one of those nights, when a warm body, any warm body, would do.

Now he needed her, only she could keep him alive.

Her focus was as intense as it had ever been for any of her patients. He was staring back with all the hope and expectation of a man who knew she could save him. In that moment she became the most important thing in the world to him. Yet even now she could feel his resentment through their bond.

She was Mary Hutchinson. The Academy's one and only user of blood magic and a prodigy even among their elite student body. The near dead could be brought back to life, torn organs made whole, and severed limbs reattached. That was the sort of skill Mary had with her blood magic.

"Curror subsisto vulnus propinquus." Chanting fervently, the words were to a spell she willed the wounds to close and the body to heal itself. She had just helped a man a few minutes ago. He had been ripped open from neck to groin and was about a minute from death. Now he was whole again and complaining of the pain in his chest and belly. By comparison this should have been simple enough.

If the magic would come, that is.

Miss Hutchinson started to pinch her face in effort, gritting her teeth in focus and physically pushed the wounds closed with her hands in the most rudimentary first aid procedures. The normal healing warmth that linked her to her patient was absent. The magic wouldn't come. His blood kept flowing out and she couldn't stop it.

"Mary please," Marcus managed to place a single trembling hand over one of hers; his skin was clammy and cool. His voice trembled in repentant worry. "I'm sorry, I take it back. Please save me."

There were tears in his eyes.

'He only cries for himself,' she couldn't keep from thinking resentfully.

Pushing the thought from her mind, she shook her head clear and focused on the spell repeating the enchantment again and again. Veins were supposed to close, bones were supposed to set themselves, and muscles knit back together. Her magic was supposed to repair the damage; it was supposed to save him.

But the magic wouldn't come.

This should have been child's play, she recalled hundreds of other wounds healing themselves under her touch.

No matter what she did the spell wouldn't work. She could feel his heart beat slowing as his life bled away through her hands.

"M'sorry, Marcus." She blinked her pretty dark eyes, hoping to offer some sense of comfort to him with their shared bond.

He understood and his plea turned into the most vicious scowl he could muster with his pale face and gritted teeth.

"Bitch," he spoke with the last of his breath. "You let me die."

She wanted to explain, to tell him why that wasn't true, but the words would not have comforted him. They would have only been pathetic excuses meant to protect her, so she did not argue with him. Instead she watched him wheeze and shudder wet breaths through his mouth. She felt her connection to him through their bond slowly fade. As his feelings began to disappear she couldn't help but feel relieved.

With his last bit of strength, he pushed her hands off of him and tried to spit at her, but all he had managed was a gurgle and shudder in his final throes.

When he finally settled and the light from his eyes glazed over, Mary closed them, leaving two bloody streaks over his lids to his cheeks. Leaning back on her feet and clasping her hands, the well-dressed girl offered him a moment of silence. Looking down at his strong build and handsomely dressed figure, she wondered if he had always dressed as if he were going to die. He certainly had the proper attire on.

"Gu'bye, Marcus," With her manicured nails and diamond tennis bracelet, Mary Hutchinson got to her feet with her Prada leather slip on just a foot away from her and carefully pulled out the slivers of glass that had dug themselves into her knees, ruining her stockings.

She did not cry for him. She would have saved him if she could have but she would not shed any false tears.

There had been no love between them.

Feeling the scrapes on her knees and down her legs, without thinking about it, she recited her most rudimentary spell. "Vigoratus."

There was just the slightest tell tale glow about her body, like some holy aura that shrouded her in a mystical halo of light. What she could not do for Marcus, she was able to do to herself without even trying. All over her legs and body her wounds closed and healed without a trace.

Only when she looked up did she remember how many students were there. They had all witnessed her failure to save Marcus, and what was even more damning they had all just seen her heal herself. No one said anything to her directly but they were already whispering to one another and she could see the condemnation and silent accusation in their eyes. She knew what they had to be thinking.

Still, they said nothing. She'd already helped dozens of people and plenty more still needed her. If there was a hidden, vindictive reason why she could do for them and not for their precious beloved Marcus, they did not have the courage to accuse her.

Not out loud at least.

She could see it in their eyes though; that she was already condemned. She might have explained to them why it hadn't worked, why her magic had failed.

A name began to murmur through out the gathered students, some even followed by gestured points to her dark stained clothes, crimson smeared cheeks, and hands drenched to the elbows of her once pristinely white blouse.

"…Mary…that girl…"

But she wouldn't make excuses for herself.

"She looks like she slaughtered him herself…there's just so much blood…"

If they wanted to think badly of her she would let them.

"Bloody…"

They could all just fuck themselves.

"Mary…"

"Outta ma' way!" She snapped, causing people to jump.

Without a word they parted to let her go past. As they watched her stomp over to some old woman with a head wound there were more whispers. Everyone was of the same opinion: Mary had to be the most heartless bitch they'd ever laid eyes on.

Who else would let their contract partner die?

XXX

One Year Later, Present Time

"Brad wants to make a contract with me!" Juliet squealed in elation to him.

"He… he does?" Talek replied with perfect calm that belied what he was really feeling.

"Isn't it wonderful?" She began to flap her hands in front of her, shifting her balance from one foot to the next. Keeping still was a task that she was ill suited to at the moment

"I never thought he would pick me but he has! It's like a dream come true!" She crowed too excited to care if she was being too loud.

Talek just stood there, silently watching the young blonde he had been pining for, and secretly hoping to offer a contract to, as she continued to dance around him.

'She's so happy,' he thought miserably.

Ignorant to his mood in her own euphoria, she grabbed a hold of him and hugged him as hard as she could. "It's all thanks to you and your help! He would never have noticed me and I would have been too scared to be anything but a nervous wreck if it weren't for you! Thank you Talek! You really are the best friend I've ever had!"

'So I'm the reason for my own stupid heart break and his happiness. Yeah, I'm a great friend. That's all I am.' Talek thought.

"That's… great," he said through a cheerless smile, watching her cheeks turn a pretty pink and her eyes glitter with anticipation.

"Oh I can't wait to tell the girls! They're all going to be so jealous!" Before she let go of him, she gave him a quick kiss on the cheek and a last hug good bye. "You really are my best friend, Talek! Thank you so much! I'm sorry we won' be partners any more!"

In a flounce of blonde curls and flying skirt, she quickly walked away to tell everyone of her proposal from the man of her dreams.

Talek had never seen her so happy. It would only be appropriate that following that day, Juliet never hugged him or kissed him again.

XXX

The last class was over and his feet were shuffling him out of Ayers Hall and towards Avalon where the dorms were. He was thinking about what had happened earlier and his body was moving on auto pilot. Other students went past without giving him a thought. They were of different ages and all dressed in their own fashion. The one thing they all had in common was the zakesh, the bright red cloth slash all magic users were required to wear in public. Some of the girls wore them like scarves around their necks or as accessories around dresses like a sash. The boys mostly tied them on to their belts or around one arm.

That was how Talek wore his, tied around his left arm just above the elbow. He would put it on before going out to class and just forget about it. This was one of he few places where having a zakesh didn't get noticed.

This was Veneficus Private Academy for the Magical Arts.

Established in 1786. Located in Salem, Massachusetts. One of the world's leading schools for the instruction of magic. It was the oldest and most respected school of magic in the United States. All graduates were not only granted certificates giving them the rank of mage and a license to practice magic within their specialty, but were guaranteed to be sought after by the top guilds. To be a graduate of Veneficus was to be one of the best.

The campus was made up of a series of old brick buildings surrounded by tiny lawns and bushes. The whole school occupied less than a square mile. All the buildings were packed in tight and both students and faculty were expected to walk to where ever they had to go. Since the last classes had just ended for the day the walkways were filled with students heading towards the dorms, to eat at the cafeteria, or maybe go to the library to study.

This was where he belonged, he knew, yet he didn't feel any connection to this place.

Talek was a third year student, half way through the six year program and half way to becoming a real mage and joining a Guild. His specialty was wind magic and he was good enough at it. Certainly no genius, he had no trouble passing his courses or completing his missions. Somewhere in the middle, mediocre, average, but good enough. That was him.

Was that why Juliet had never been interested in him as anything beyond a friend? The idea of her and Brad making a contract just made him sick. It wasn't fair! He had always liked her and always been there for her. She had liked him too. They'd been partners on missions since freshman year. Spent time together and shared their hopes, dreams, and fears. They had helped each other through the loneliness of being here.

They had even been together all through the Fool's Day Incursion. They'd fought and protected each other while in real danger. Didn't that mean anything to her?

So why wasn't he good enough to be anything more than a friend? Why was it Brad?

Brad this…

Brad that…

Brad, Brad, Brad…

Why was Brad the one she wanted to make a contract with? What was wrong with him? Was he not good looking enough? Not cool enough? Was he too much of a 'nice guy?' Did he have to be an overconfident prick or just completely rearrange his genes to get the one girl he had worked so hard for?

Life wasn't fair.

As he kicked a can littering the sidewalk, a very familiar voice sang out to him.

"And wha' did that poor ole' can do ta' you ta' git yer pan'ies in a bunch?"

He knew that voice like he knew his own… but what was with that accent?

Turning around to the slim figure casually leaning against the wall of the library was his Juliet. Arms folded across her pretty blue blouse and those amazing blond curls framing the smooth milky skin of her face. Her feminine tan cloak was pinned with a tarnished silver clasp the hung over her left shoulder glittered next to the little heart shaped locket that nestled over the valley of her blossoming breasts…

Wait, she had her blouse unbuttoned? Was that her bra peeking out?

"Juliet?" Talek spoke out loud more in question then actual recognition.

There was definitely something off about her.

"Y'er one an' only, darl'n." She smiled at him…

No… smirked?

Where did that accent come from? Was it some kind of Southern drawl? She was from Wisconsin for Christ's sake!

His Juliet shrugged herself off the wall, those pretty white ankle boots tapping their heels on the cement as she approached him. Soft slender fingers curled around his arm, leaning against him bodily with a smile that offered more then the usual, friendly platonic 'happy to see you' greeting he usually received.

The way her lips pressed together, the way her sapphire blue eyes hooded and looked at him with… interest? With longing? Wasn't this the way she usually spied on Brad?

"Take'a walk wit me?" She hummed charmingly giving his arm a playful squeeze.

"Are you preparing for a play or something, Juliet? You're acting… funny." Talek tweaked his nose, looking down at the lovely young woman who he still pined for. He knew her better than anyone else on campus and he could not remember her ever acting this strangely.

Though the way she was holding on to his arm felt kind of nice.

"Why? Do ya like the da way I act?" She nuzzled close to him, pretty white teeth flashing under those soft pink lips.

"No, it's… weird."

She snorted at him. Snorted?

What the hell?

"Then lets skip da' foreplay, shu'ga."

He blinked, but before he could answer she was going to rip his arm from his socket. "Wha-?"

She snatched his wrist and was dragging him towards a direction the main gate.

XXX

The door opened to a dingy little hotel room. Talek wasn't sure what sort of place this was, but he had his suspicions. The smirking guy at the front office basically just threw a key at him and winked in a knowing way that put his teeth on edge. He'd taken one look at Juliet and started grinning!

Was it so common to see students with zakeshes visit this place? They were magic users!

"Make yer'self at home, Shug'ah." Juliet pulled him into the room, circled him, and closed the door behind him. Nervously, Talek's eyes never left her's as she pressed her back against the door and locked it with a very loud 'click'.

"What are we doing here?" He couldn't help sounding confused and a little nervous. "How do you even know about this place?"

"Cross'n boundaries, learn'n new things, creati'n bonds," His Juliet traced the front of her chest with her hands, tilted her head back, reached on her toes, and kissed him. "True love'n all."

Talek was sure this was all some strange dream and he would wake up in a hospital bed some where. This wasn't her! Even in his dreams Juliet was never this forward!

Then something occurred to him just as she pulled away.

"You…"

"Hmm?" She snaked one hand behind his neck and started to play with his hair affectionately.

"You taste like cigarettes."

"Do ah?" She flinched a bit, looking away with a slightly derailed chew of her lips. "Do ya like it?"

Puckering his lips as if he just tasted his first lemon, he shook his head. "No, it's awful."

Pretty light eyebrows narrowed over her pert nose, she took a step back and reached for her cloak. "Not all'a me tastes like a cig', shu'ga,"

Nimble fingers pulled at the pin holding her cloak over her shoulder, letting it drop at her feet. Simple sun kissed fingers began to massage the front of her blouse, squeezing her breasts, causing a low, soft intake of air to be sucked through the front of her teeth in an erotic and sensual way he had never, ever thought she would sound like in his most wildest dreams. His pristine Juliet was swaying her hips, side to side and rolling them in a way that made him dizzy with want.

This couldn't be his Juliet. She was a sweet modest girl who would die of embarrassment if she were seen acting this way.

"What's your father's first name?" He asked.

That brought her swaying to a sudden stop and left an uncertain look on her face. "John," she said.

He shook his head. "Who are you?" He found his voice when the sultry copy of his most precious person licked her lips and leaned the back of her long ankle length skirt to the back of the bed, falling onto the mattress. Fanning her hair behind her she lifted one leg just enough to let the skirt slip down past her knee.

"I'm whoe'er I need ta' be for you, shu'ga."

"Then you're not Jul…"

Talek had a mind to stalk out of the room, furious that this person was playing games with him was just trying to make a fool out of him, but he stopped short when he saw the next couple of buttons come undone from her blouse.

"Like what'cha see, darl'n?"

'Yeah I do.' He knew she was teasing him. Knew that this person wasn't really Juliet. Yet he couldn't take his eyes off the silky black lace bra that was now on display. Real or not this was what he'd been fantasizing about for three years.

One thin finger pushed through the bottom of the modest cup of her bra, enticing a narrow lidded look of provocative pleasure at her own touch.

When he had started holding his breath, he wasn't sure, but his brain went numb for a few seconds and he exhaled like a man who had been held under water for a minute.

"Please…stop it…"

"Oh? You dun sound ver'a convincin', luv." Juliet's voice was barely a whisper, a very inviting one at that. "You need ta come ov'r here'n say that a'gin."

Tentatively, Talek took his first steps towards 'her'.

"This is some kind of an illusion right?" He asked weakly.

She snorted again. "Nah, this is way better than some weak illusion." Reaching up she took hold of one of his hands and planted it firmly onto a breast. "Does that feel like an illusion, darl'n'?"

'Juliet' was right, it felt amazing. Even through her bra he could feel just how soft she was underneath, how very real she was. Without meaning to he gave a little squeeze.

The Juliet before him inhaled in feminine invitation.

Talek momentarily forgot that the girl in front of him wasn't the one he'd been chasing for three yes. "Wow…"

"Glad ya like."

Her playful words quickly brought him back to reality. This was not Juliet.

Jerking his hand away, Talek took a couple of steps back and pointed an accusing finger at 'her'. "Did you do something to Juliet? Tell me who you are right now or I'm leaving."

Sighing loudly in frustrated defeat, the blond curls and usually soft, sincere blue eyes of the girl he adored grinned mischievously. Bouncing a leg up in a manner a dancer or gymnast would have approved of, 'Juliet' pushed her skirt down, jumped off the bed, and dashed across the room quicker then he could have imagined, and embraced him soundly.

"Aw, and I was hopin' we could'a really gotten to know each other more fri'ndly like. Ya know? Sort'a in the biblical sense?" Her laugh was teasing and nothing at all like Juliet's soft giggles.

"Goodbye then."

He started to push her away, but was rather surprised by the strength of her grip.

"Why ya be'n such'a pansy? Did'n ya like what'cha felt? Who ah was, shu'gah?" She grinned cheekily at him, just a scant few inches from his face.

"You still smell like cigarettes," He made a point of wrinkling his nose. "So if you're going to say anything, how about telling me if Juliet is okay and why you're doing this?"

Growling in a very un-Juliet sort of way, she released him and patted his cheek roughly. "Ah, I woul'nt worry too much'a Juliet, Luv. That girl's bee'n handl'd jus fine."

Distrust and confusion pinched his brow. For the first time, he was beginning to believe his friend and partner might be in trouble.

Though the door and windows of the room were shut a sudden gust filled the air. It was enough to knock over a lamp and make 'Juliet's' hair dance and whip about. The look on the girl's face was one of surprise, but a huge grin quickly appeared.

"Don't play with me." Talek's tone was no longer friendly and, in fact, looked very serious. "Tell me what you did to Juliet."

In mock surrender, the girl threw her hands up, but not without a look of respect and mounting excitement.

"Oh, you'll go ta that, woul'ja? Hah! Ah knew ah hit the nail on da head wit you, darl'n." The girl grinned so wide her molars were showing and her cheeks bunched so high her pretty blue eyes closed.

The air in the enclosed room whipped about faster in response to his growing anger and frustration. He was far from violent by nature but if the girl he cared about was in danger…

"Fine, fine," Juliet rolled her eyes and her hands knuckled onto her slender hips. "Fer starter's, Shug-ah, yer Juliet's jus peachy. Las ah saw, her'n Brad were mak'n frien'ly-like I was try'n wit you in da back of da stairway near da fire exit. Right by da mana labs. Know da place?"

The minor gale withered and died away.

"So… she told him yes then." Talek murmured with finality to himself.

Juliet was gone.

The girl in front of him took a few tentative steps towards him. "It's not yer fault, Tik-tak."

'Did she call me Tik-tak? That's not my name. Why did she call me that? How did she know about the real Juliet?' He thought.

This was the first time he had heard the girl call him something other then 'shug'ah or darl'n', so she obviously knew who he was and had to be a fellow student… he didn't think she was anyone he knew. Though the accent stirred up some memories of someone, he couldn't match a face to it, especially when she sounded like Juliet…

Brad's Juliet. Not his, not any more.

It was weird hearing Juliet say she was sorry that another version of her was off making out with another man. The news did not set his mind at ease and he wanted whatever stupid game this was to end.

"Who are you? Tell me right now!" Talek widened his stance and crossed his arms.

Juliet seemed hesitant to reveal herself.

"Jus rememb'r, Tik-tak, Ah did this ta try'n cheer ya up and offer ya sumth'n. Keep'n open mind'n all, 'kay?"

"Oh God! You're a guy, aren't you?" Talek looked ready to wretch.

"Ass'ole! Ah'ma girl!" With an indignant snap of her fingers, Juliet… the almost nude and very willing Juliet melted away to be replaced by…

Thought Talek wouldn't call the woman in front of him nightmarishly ugly, she certainly didn't appear to try and fight the prospect of it.

Pierced through her nose, eyebrow, and sporting a lip spike, the girl was painted like some kind of witchdoctor prepared for a voodoo ceremony gone grunge and gothic mixed together. Black paint circled her eyes with tears falling from the corners like some kind of harlequin doll. Lipstick of waxy black arched upwards in a very wide, creepy smile. Dark black hair ran split into two wild pony tails that appeared to be an attempt at looking cute and childish with a weird twist to it all.

The ribbons were barb wire cinched with skull shoestrings.

Around her neck, razor wire…several strands of razor wire literally scratched and scrapped at the hallow of her zakesh wrapped throat.

Long frilly maroon and purple striped blouse that looked like something that belonged on a Halloween display adorned her top with sleeves that went well past her wrist to almost cover black nail polish finger tips. Around her waist several utility chains with belts clattered next to each other, holding up a bunched up short black skirt with some of the runniest black stockings he has ever seen. Large clunky black military boots adorned her feet with their laces untied.

Sadly enough, Talek recognized her instantly.

"No way…"

Behind that make up and metal and belts, she gave him her best smile while pulling out a pack of cigarettes from inside her sleeve. Tapping the pack to compact the tobacco, she was still grinning at him like some kind of female Mad Hatter gone death metal.

"Hi, Yah rem'mber me, Mary Hutchinson, don'tcha?"

"Wha…" he stared at her as if this was some sort of bizarre joke.

"Hi, Tik-tak…so, mind if I ask you a question?" She slipped a lighter from out of her other long sleeve and flicked it a few times.

"What the hell?" He yelled at her at the top of his voice, looking as horrified as if he'd just been caught spanking the monkey.

Yes he knew her.

There were only about five hundred students at the Academy so most everyone either knew or knew of everyone else. Bloody Mary. The goth chick. The Freak. The Black Widow. They had two classes together but he'd never spoken a word to one other. He knew her solely by her reputation.

And that was as horrid as her ensemble.

His reaction appeared to disappoint her though she did not look surprised. "Nice to see ya recognize me, Tik-tak."

He stared at her in a complete loss. She was, literally, the last person he would ever think to go to a hotel room with and grope.

"What the hell is this about?" He demanded with an indignant growl.

She licked her waxy lips while pulling out a stick of tobacco, lighting it up and taking a drag with smooth efficiency, she blew out the smoke as if it was a sigh of love.

"Now that the cat's outta the bag, how would ya like to have a Contract with me Tik Tak?"