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Journals of the Lady Cobra, her friends, her foes, and anyone in between.


White Cobra
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((inspired by the great writing prompts from @CrystalDragon, the astonishing story thread by @TwoDee, and conversations in game, I thought about creating this story thread to chronicle on a more current basis in short scenes and stories the adventures and other ongoings in Lady Cobra’s little corner of the Everlasting universe.

The first short piece is based on an idea from @Sabrehawk and is meant to mark the start of an investigative plot/story.

It would be great if anyone else might be persuaded to contribute with their own scenes or stories – be it something that might serve as a plot hook or “icebreaker” for in-game interaction, or just stories about their characters regardless of whether they have any current or prospective relation to Lady Cobra and related characters or not.))

 

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Edited by White Cobra
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Emily Chang never felt quite comfortable visiting the Isles.

Dressed inconspicuously in charcoal grey she fell in with the background, but she was mindful to remember that this was away turf and hostile territory with potential danger lurking around every wall or corner.

Just last night, Emily had experienced a very vivid nightmare of being drugged and abducted by Ex-husband William and his men and being left in a Sharkhead Isles pile of slag dressed in her full Lady Cobra costume. She had awoken in a sweat before trying to figure out how to deal with that predicament, but she couldn’t quite escape the eerie feeling that the nightmare had been an ominous warning to abandon today’s venture into this dangerous environment.

But homeless people were reportedly disappearing at an alarming frequency and she didn’t really have much choice.

She rounded a corner and turned down a harbor street. This area of Port Oakes in particular brought back nasty memories and forced her to suppress a shiver. During a previous encounter here, Emily had found herself badly outnumbered and been roughed up quite a bit before narrowly managing to escape and retreat with her tail between the legs. It had been large slices of humble pie, difficult for her to digest. But it had been highly educative as well. Since then she had learnt to be even more careful and discrete than before.

Careful and discrete she certainly was as she tried approaching and questioning patrons of the street, but it was hard getting any solid leads or information from the few people even willing to speak with her. She spoke to a friend of a man called Lumberjack Joe, who hadn’t been seen for several days and there were other more hearsay-based accounts.

As darkness started to fall, new patrons took to the streets and Emily was able to get at least two more solid references to homeless people going missing and a handful of additional hearsay ones. The accounts of mysterious figures attacking and abducting the helpless victims at night had a slight urban legend vibe to it but based on the more solid accounts there was no doubt that something – and something organized – was at play.

Drawing her coat closer against the evening chill Emily prepared to leave for home. She had no doubts that she would have to come back soon. Perhaps disguising herself as a homeless person and taking to the streets would be the key to getting to the bottom of this mystery.

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William Chang looked at the framed picture of Anni Nakayima on his desk and grunted. The woman really was quite insufferable most of the time. But she did have the redeeming quality of being quite adventurous in the bedchamber – evil tongues would have it known it was tricks learnt from a previous trade. William didn’t much care as long as her skills worked to his benefit.

More importantly though, their relation gave him some measure of control over Nakayima Enterprises and enabled him to ensure that their considerable resources and influence could be used to support the interests of Chang Industries. That ghastly playboy son of hers, Takuma, had been a nuisance at first, but thankfully he was now fully occupied chasing down Rei Mizuni and acting as lovesick puppy, wagging his tail whenever she was within a hundred-mile radius. It kept Takuma distracted and the Mizuni girl annoyed, and that meant that two of William’s rivals were kept off their best business game.

He buzzed his secretary letting her know that he was under no circumstances whatsoever to be disturbed. Protecting his business interests was one thing, but far from his most important concern. Now to things that really mattered.

William took a key from his vest pocket and opened the locked, top desk drawer. Carefully, he retrieved the item hidden therein. It was a special Thai edition Lady Cobra Barbie-doll complete in the blue, red, white, and golden costume and with all ceremonial regalia.

He sat with the doll in his hands, studying it carefully, resisting the urge to spit on it and trample it to pieces on the floor. How dare that… William discovered he was squeezing the doll to the point of breaking it. How could she have had the audacity to leave and divorce him when all he had ever done was shower her in affection and love? Well, she might think she had won for now, but William was determined on getting her back.

For fun he started jabbing needles into the doll, wishing she could feel it for real. But unfortunately, the doll wasn’t of the Haitian variety, although it might actually be worth a visit there to see if he could get the real thing.

Using his business partners Ngo Damh was also getting a bit old. Yes, their methods were quite terrifying and effective, and he still quite liked the idea of Emily walking in to find a deadly Taipan waiting in the shower or a Brazilian wandering spider lurking under the duvet, but he didn’t want her dead. He just wanted her to suffer and then to come running to him, and for that purpose some of his own creations were much more effective and adaptable.

He had a lot of planning to do, certainly. For now he had turned to an old, trusted business companion, the infamous Witch of Mekong. The Witch wasn’t cheap, excessively costly in fact, but she had served him well before, posing as Jessica’s nanny, and William was expecting a lot from their most recent collaboration. The Witch had listened to William’s frustration and come up with a great idea, and now he just had to muster some patience to let the Witch work her magic.

Nightmare spells. It was strange he hadn’t thought or heard of it before. It seemed such an obvious idea, and William could hardly wait to see how it would work to throw poor, little Emily off balance.

Edited by White Cobra
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    The orange ball of the sun rose and cast it's brilliant light through the bay window that stretched the length of the Grandville royal suite. That burning orb illuminated a room floored in marble. White furnishings. Except for the dining table; solid black.

 

    The tall woman who set at that table went by the name Sabrehawk and she was a killer for hire. She liked to think she was one of the best. But it was a competitive field. You had to have an edge. And Sabrehawk? She didn't have any powers.

 

    That was okay. She had everything else.

 

    Like 'Sabredyne'. An experimental 'dine derivative. Derived, if you will, by isolating stem cells and treating them in pure Superadine. Remove the Superadine, mix the stem cells into a stabilizing solution and Sabredyne was born. 

 

    It didn't give you powers. That was okay. It gave you everything else.

 

    Sabredyne was short lived but it washed away fatigue and soreness. Injuries healed quicker. And recovery? Sabrehawk could train three or four times a day with it's aid.

 

    Of course everything had it's price. Sabredyne had the best price; the kind someone else paid for. It was science you see and science required experimentation. Which required control groups and experimental groups. But the mysteries of Superadine were notoriously difficult to pry from it's grasp. Sabrehawk also needed control groups (positive) and control groups (negative) and meaningful sample sizes and oh so much more.

 

    Science wasn't cheap.

 

    Volunteers for experimental Superadine injections could be had. But having them in volume and having them cheap enough to make volume practical, that was another matter. So Sabrehawk collected them the best way. Free.

 

    The world was full of people no one would miss. They lived out of shopping carts or made their homes in sagging little tents under bridges and in public parks. And there were so very many of them! Who would miss a few here and there?

 

    Well someone had. That someone had been poking around Port Oakes. 

 

    The tall woman leaned back and propped her feet up on the black table. Wiggled her toes and opened the report compiled by one of her (relatively) trusted minions. Details on the subject were sparse. Gender and ethnicity. Estimated height and weight. There wasn't even a photo. That wasn't much to go on.

 

    Sabrehawk pushed her chair back and rose to her full height. She stood an even six foot. Tossed a bathrobe about her shoulders and walked to the bay window leaned against it. The sunrise illuminated the left side of her face as she folded her arms over her upper stomach and pondered the problem before her.

 

    On one hand, maybe this was just some journalist who had deluded themselves into something approximating courage. That was an easy problem to solve. When the journalist was gone the problem would be too.

 

    It could also be a private investigator. That was a stickier situation. Those little bloodhounds were summoned by the dollar and a constant stream of them would flow forth until the source of their wage was located and eliminated. 

 

     Of course it could also be a rival. Some ambitious young up-and-comer trying to dig up dirt on Sabrehawk. Probably not; the report didn't indicate that the subject had used force on anyone she spoke to. But Sabrehawk thought it wise to be aware of every possibility.

 

     And last but never least; it could be a superhero. Those bleeding hearts were always getting worked up about some cause or another and the plight of the homeless were the latest cause du jour.

 

    She needed to figure out what she was dealing with. 

 

    The tall woman pushed off the window. Tossed the file on the table and made her way to a room in the back. 

 

    Her skull mask was waiting. And so were answers.

 

 

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Emily Chang had been undercover before, more than she cared to remember, but this was her first time sleeping rough.

And rough it was. It was hard to say what was the worst part. The rain soaking her improvised cardboard box shelter, the nocturnal chill carelessly penetrating any measure of layered clothing she had thought might protect her, or the random verbal abuse from passing drunks and other hostiles with the ever-present threat of escalation into physical violence.

It made her feel vulnerable; threatened to make her forget who she was, what she was capable of, and why she was here. She was the Lady Cobra, Mistress of disguise and Mistress of the Martial Arts, she reminded herself as she huddled as close to the illusion of warmth emanating from an oil-barrel fire, as fierce territorial competition from her fellow residents of the street would allow.

At least Emily had the luxury of spending her days in a rented room with private entrance, close to the harbor. It allowed her to sleep in relative comfort during the day, so she could be awake and alert during the nighttime when she was wearing her homeless old lady disguise.

Unfortunately, on her first day, this luxury had been interrupted by another vivid nightmare. This time, the Lady Cobra had been in the ocean, struggling against incoming waves, further and further away from the shore, desperate to save a swimmer in distress but getting more and more cold and exhausted herself the longer it took. Then finally, she had reached the distressed swimmer, but now she saw that they were in scuba gear, and there were three of them, and they were dragging her down, drowning her… Again, Emily had emerged from the nightmare covered in perspiration, and as she slowly donned her disguise, she was feeling far less replenished than she would have hoped.

But the mission had to go on regardless of how tired she felt.

This was the second night posing as a homeless lady, and the others were beginning to accept her presence among them. So far nothing had happened, but there was something in the air – an unmistakable aura of nervous anticipation. It was as if something or someone was coming. And – urban legend or not - the whole homeless community seemed to be holding their breaths in fear.

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”Rei-chan fancy meeting you here!”

Rei Mizuni looked up from the Mizuni Logistics division management reports she had been studying. Oh great…

“Nakayima-san, this is most unexpected surprise…” Rei’s voice carried as much warmth as a winter Siberian tundra. Her mind was busy analyzing numbers and did not welcome any interruption and least of all one coming from Takuma Nakayima and the two luscious young women draped around either side of him. The blonde was a model and the redhead an actress Rei’s mind registered after a brief, scowling scan. A painfully obvious attempt to make her jealous no doubt.

“I was thinking I might be able to fit in a dinner with you later this month…” Takuma flashed her one of his signature playboy smiles while squeezing the buttocks of his two companions.

Nakayima’s offer made the redhead scowl at Rei, but the return thunderbolt of flames from black, Japanese eyes made the actress retreat and cower.

“That is most generous offer…” The tone in Rei’s voice could now singlehandedly eliminate the threat of global warming.

“Yes?” Nakayima looked at her hopefully.

“Unfortunately I am in the process to supervise redecoration of one Mizuni warehouse and am most occupied about to watch that paint dry…”

“Oh…but that…uh…I see…” Nakayima was shifting his feet nervously.

“And now, if you will most kindly excuse me – I must read most urgently these reports.”

After sending a final scowl in the direction of the departing Nakayima and his mannequin entourage, Rei resumed her studies of the most recent numbers. She frowned. Performance was not what she was expecting. Especially the local business here and in the Isles was suffering, and Rei had a pretty good idea why. Chang Industries and that wretched new outfit from Thailand, Ngo Damh, a combination of intelligence and rumors would have it that William Chang was working with, were giving her people a hard time.

Rei took a sip of her elderflower lemonade. Delicious!

Well, this was something she couldn’t allow to pass. The Mizuni Corporation did not bow down to pressure like this. Only, it might be too obvious if she used her own “Security division” staff as regulators. No, surely this was more work suitable for an external contractor.

Now she just needed to find someone having the required skillset and the death-defying courage to match.

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A serial killer was on the loose. Committing murders dressed as the Lady Cobra in a perfect replica of her costume and mask. And now she was wanted by the authorities. She had to go to the police. To clear her name. But why was she being held in custody? And why did they keep saying her fingerprints were on the knife and traces of her DNA found on the body? And why…why was William her defense attorney? He didn’t do criminal law? And plea bargaining? Life in prison without parole? No! She hadn’t agreed to that! And now she was being taken to prison in her costume. She wouldn’t survive 10 minutes in gen pop dressed like that. She was going to die! She had to…

Emily awoke in a sweat, her eyes darting madly about in the darkness of her rented room. Her rented room. Not prison, she slowly realized. Another nightmare…

She gulped wearily. It was the third in a row. First there had been the one were she was drowning in quicksand and awoke clawing at the neckline of her nightgown and gasping for breath. Then there was the one where she was at the top of that skyscraper construction site having to balance across a narrow steel beam to escape the axe-wielding maniac clown hunting her.

Three nightmares in the space of a few hours and hardly any sleep. Whatever was the matter with her?

Emily realized that there would be no more sleep for her that day. The room was spinning when she got out of bed and she was just so, so tired. A look in the mirror told her she wouldn’t need much makeup to complete her old lady disguise. An anemic vampire would look healthily tanned compared to her.

Getting into character was very important when undercover. And Emily really did feel like a down-on-her-luck old lady as she left to take her place amongst the homeless community for yet another night of whatever vigilance she might be able to muster.

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”You can get dressed now,” the doctor said.

“Is everything okay?” Emily pulled the white roll-neck blouse back on and adjusted her hair, trying to gauge the doctor’s verdict from his expression.

“Physically there’s nothing wrong with you, quite the opposite in fact. But…”

“Yes?” Emily bit her lip.

“Is everything okay at home? At work? Too busy perhaps? Feeling a bit stressed maybe?”

“I don’t know…” Emily resumed biting her lip. Was she stressed? Was that it? The undercover homeless assignment perhaps? The whole William…situation…thing? Jessica?

She had certainly been plagued by yet another horrible nightmare as she tried to get half an hour of sleep before the doctor’s appointment. Diving this time. A shipwreck with crucial cargo inside. Strangely, William had been on the Lady Cobra’s diving crew and had gestured her to swim inside a large crack in the hull, trying to guide her in the poor visibility. But then, just as she had managed to squeeze inside the opening, she had become entangled in a net. The more she struggled to get free, the more entangled she became, and her arms were caught so she couldn’t get to her knife. Desperately, she tried to alert William to her plight, but he was just looking at her, as if he didn’t understand, and then…he swam away from her, leaving her there, trapped in the net. Leaving her alone in the dark abyss. Leaving her alone to drown…

That was when she had awoken in yet another panic. That was the fourth nightmare in one day. A new, terrifying record, and it had made her glad she had called the day before to schedule a visit to the doctor. Emily’s mind returned to the present and she realized the doctor was staring at her with a quite concerned-looking expression on his face.

“I may be…just a little bit…stressed,” Emily offered, "uh...office gossip and politics...that  kind of stuff...you know..."

“Well, normally I would tell you to get some rest and sleep. I’ll prescribe some Melatonin for you but given the circumstances I might also suggest you seek out the help of someone more qualified to help with that. Someone with a degree in psychology.”

As Emily had thanked the doctor and left, she thought about his suggestion. Had she been back in Denmark, she would have called Dr. Holmblad even though he was William’s friend. He had helped her and most likely saved her life back then with…with Jessica. Here, she didn’t know anyone and she was weary about ending up on the couch of some poorly selected therapist that she couldn’t trust and spilling out the Lady Cobra’s most closely guarded secrets to him or her.

Emily’s eyes lit up a bit as a sudden thought occurred to her. She could call one of her friends and colleagues from Thailand, the Lady of Allure. She had helped Lady Cobra before and might have  an idea on how to deal with the current predicament before Emily was driven mad or hurt during a mission from lack of sleep. Yes, she was going to follow that plan and give her fellow costumed heroine a call and hear her opinion before seeking out a random therapist.

But for now, it was already late afternoon, and Emily needed to get back to the Isles and back in her role as homeless old lady impersonator before darkness fell.

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And it surrounds everything, and it surrounds all your dreams, and it will take you to fears, you never knew.

 Zola Jesus: Vessel

Emily Chang sat hugging herself on the bed after yet another nightmare.

This had been the worst so far. The worst by far. The Lady Cobra captured by Ngo Damh, wrapped in chains, taken deep into a cave, lifted into a stone coffin filled with spiders, the lid closed despite her wild eyes and desperate cries for mercy, the darkness, the creepy crawling everywhere, the suffocating claustrophobia, the inability to breathe, the overwhelming feeling of going insane and almost begging for whatever relief that might follow in the wake of losing her mind. The waking up in a sweat, the gasping for breath, the slow realization that it was just a bad, bad dream…another one.

After one of the earlier nightmares that day, Emily had been careless enough to look in the mirror. She was now so pale her face could appear in a Thai billboard advertisement for facial crème. It wasn’t sustainable being deprived from sleep like this. Something was going to snap.

Emily had tried going to sleep again but found she couldn’t breathe and felt like she was suffocating each time she rested her head on the pillow. She thought about calling her friend the Lady of Allure but her mind was too tired to work out the time difference to Bangkok. A brief attempt to read from her current poetry book had met with similar failure.

So now she was left to trembling and hugging herself on the bed. And in two hours she would have to venture into the dark streets posing as an old lady again.

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The man standing in front of William Chang was of indeterminable age and of so inconspicuous appearance you might pause in his presence to question whether there was actually anyone standing in front of you at all.

“Well?” William hissed at him impatiently. Lung Mao might be one of Ngo Damh’s best trackers but he certainly did take his time getting to the point.

“She went to see a Doctor Armstrong and was in there for about half an hour. Then she left for the Isles again na khrap.”

“And you say she looked unwell?”

“Chây khrap. Pale, very pale. Dark shadows under the eyes. Didn’t even check if she was being followed.”

The tracker shook his head in professional disapproval but it was sweet music to William’s ears.

“Excellent. Looks like it’s working even beyond my expectations! And you’re sure she is staying in a rented room there?”

“Chây khrap,” the tracker nodded and continued, “and she leaves at dusk dressed as an old lady, mingling in with the homeless community.”

“Well, keep a close eye on her and let me know the second there is any development.”

The tracker nodded and started towards the door.

“Oh, and by the way…” William’s voice made the tracker pause. “Make sure our men there leave her alone for now. When the time is right, I will come and deal with her myself.”

Edited by White Cobra
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@White Cobra

 

    The clock on the wall read fifteen to midnight. A roach skittered out of a hole in the floorboard. There were no lights and there room held only a single (living) occupant. There was a wooden table about seven feet back from the window. Scratch marks on the floor showed where the table had been dragged back from against the window. To the right of the table was a pile of trash; magazines, a half crumpled box of tissues, a filthy ashtray and someone's car keys. The only item on the table was a Accuracy International rifle chambered in .338 Lapua with black furniture, ZC840 scope and it's PTD tripod. The barrel was aimed out the seventh story window.

 

    Sabrehawk set at the trigger. One of the red eyes of her mask looked down the eight to fourty power scope. The other stared unblinking at nothing, it's electronic glow casting the center of the rifle in a sinister red.

 


 

    Two parking lots and a road lay between her and the alleyway she was watching. Three quarters of a mile. A battered black van with tinted windows pulled up in front of the alleyway. The doors swung open and six men climbed out. Combat boots. Brass knuckles. A couple of baseball bats.

 

    Each wore a black leather jacket emblazoned with the emblem of the Mercy Maulers Motorcycle Club; a human heart wrapped in barbed wire.

 

    Two pulled out flashlights and begin to shine them in the eyes of the homeless gathered around the burning oil barrel in the alleyway. Orders were barked. One of the homeless men tried to fight. A thug in motorcycle boots doubled him over with a baseball bat to the stomach. He didn't fight back after that.

 

    One of her henchmen knelt beside him grabbed his wrist with rough hands in fingerless gloves and, of all things, checked his pulse. Stood and shook his head to his five companions.

 

    "Nah. He's too weak, they don't want 'em with heart problems. Check the rest."

 

    And so they carried on. Checking each homeless man or woman with all the bedside manner of an angry bear. One by one until they found what they were looking for and that unfortunate soul vanished forever.

 

 

Edited by Sabrehawk
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Practically unnoticeable in the shadows, Lung Mao watched the arrival of the old, black van and the emergence of men from it. Intrigued, he saw them check on the homeless people one after the other but obviously not finding who or what they were looking for.

Two of the men were now approaching the spot where the old woman he knew to be the Sao Ngo Haaw in disguise lay. A little earlier she appeared to have drifted off. Lung Mao couldn’t believe that was part of her plan, and he wondered what ailment was plaguing her.

It was clear that she was not feeling well, and Khun William had appeared to know what was wrong, to have been expecting it. Perhaps he was even behind it. Lung Mao had to suppress a shiver. The Ngo Damh were far from squeamish when it came to the use of venom to enforce their will, but even among their leaders, Khun William’s experiments with poisons were whispered about in awe.

But these men did not appear to have been sent by Khun William. They had now reached the Sao Ngo Haaw and dragged her to her feet. She muttered something and started struggling in their grip.

Lung Mao steadied himself. Things were about to get interesting.

Edited by White Cobra
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I was having another nightmare.

Despite my desperate struggle to stay awake, I must have drifted off, and now another very vivid dream was haunting me. I was in my homeless woman disguise this time. Cold, tired, confused. Two men were grabbing me, forcing me to stand. I was trying to object, trying to get free and one of them started peeling off my right-hand glove, checking for something. I struggled some more and SLAP, one of the men backhanded me, knocking my head to the side. Ouch, that hurt. It was the first time actual, physical pain had invaded my nightmares, and…

As the other man strengthened his grip on my wrist, and I felt blood trickle at the side of my mouth and then tasted it too, it finally dawned on me that this was no nightmare. At least not one of the dreamy variety. No, this was the real thing, and I needed desperately to clear my head and wake up. This was the moment I had been waiting for for all these cold and damp nights among the homeless.

Then I saw the black van and felt a touch of panic start to brew. Perhaps this was what the nightmares were trying to warn me about. I hadn’t been thinking things through properly, hadn’t planned ahead like I should. But with no back-up in place I knew there was no way I could let these men take me with them in that black van.

The man holding my wrist appeared to be checking the pulse. The other was holding me from behind. I managed to free my arm and palm the pulse-checker in the jaw as he tried to catch hold of it again. The other tightened his grip around my waist and I gasped and became slack in his arms, my head dropping. It made him loosen the hold just a fraction and I caught him unprepared as I slammed my head backwards and into his face. He staggered backwards, grabbing his possibly broken nose and I was free.

The first man was recovering and came at me. I went for him but the long coat and dress were hampering my movements and the knee to his chest did not have quite the force and impact I would have hoped for. It gave me a little distance though, and I was able to lose the coat. The long, black dress was more resistant though. I tried if I could rip it off, and when that failed, had to settle for pulling it up around the waist to free my legs. I wrapped it as best I could, but wasn’t sure how long it would hold, and now I was out of time.

The men were coming at me again, circling me as I held my arm out to keep them at distance. And now I saw two more coming making the odds of a favorable outcome for me deteriorate considerably.

The was some stirring in the background among my fellow homeless dwellers.

“Help me,” I tried calling to them without any immediate response, but at least it made my assailants aware that there was another potential threat that they needed to keep in mind.

For now, however, their minds were focused on me. They came at me from all four corners of the world, and fueled by adrenaline, I burst into action.

A flurry of action left two of the men on the ground and me on my knees, gasping and dazed from a blow to the back of my head coming out of nowhere. Had there been more men? Armed?

The answer was yes I learnt painfully as more blows rained over my back and shoulders and boots hammered against my ribs. I was just able to make out the silhouette of someone wielding a baseball bat and preparing to strike.

There was a thud and a paralyzing jolt of pain, and then there was nothing more.

Edited by White Cobra
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Lung Mao was watching the battle unfold with growing concern.

Was this really all that the legendary Sao Ngo Haaw was capable of? Yes, she was fast and obviously hampered by the disguise, and the men outnumbered her and were clearly no amateurs. But still, he had expected more, and to make matters worse, it was beginning to look more and more like a losing battle for the infamous archenemy that had defied Ngo Damh’s reign for generations.

Normally, that would of course be a good thing, a very good thing in fact, but Khun William had been clear in his instructions had he not. He did not want the Sao Ngo Haaw to be hurt for now. He winced as he watched an unnoticed assailant catch the Sao Ngo Haaw with a powerful baseball-bat blow to the back of her head that made her gasp and drop to her knees. This was something she would not recover from. He would have to do something to intervene.

Lung Mao was not a fighting man. As he watched the blows and kicks savagely inflicted on the helpless enemy, he saw the homeless stirring as if almost ready to come to the fallen woman’s aid, it was as if they just needed a little nudge or encouragement to tip the scales and make them engage.

Lung Mao cursed himself for not securing back-up from Ngo Damh enforcers, but they would hardly have jumped at the opportunity of bodyguarding their archenemy even if he had tried. But, he thought to himself, as a final monstrous baseball bat blow slammed into the Sao Ngo Haaw’s head, knocking her out cold. The assailants couldn’t know that Lung Mao was alone, so perhaps a little bluff would work. Lung Mao was not a brave man but he didn’t dare think about facing Khun William’s wrath either.

-0-

“uuii-uuii-uuii”

The gibbon imitating whistling call made the six assailants freeze just as they were about to grab hold of the defeated homeless woman. As many regular visitors to the Isles, they knew what it meant. It was the Ngo Damh call to arms distress signal, and soon the place would be crawling with them, not to mention the crowd of homeless patrons that had risen to their feet and were approaching, some with broken bottles in their hands.

“Abort,” The leader said, already weary about how their mistress would react when she heard of their failure. Perhaps now would be a good time to get that life insurance after all so his wife and kids would be taken well care of.

With a final glimpse at the fallen homeless woman and wondering how she could have fought back so ferociously, he led his men in a controlled retreat to the black van.

Edited by White Cobra
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”There, there, my beautiful angel. I’ve got you now. Everything is going to be okay…”

Emily Chang gulped and opened her eyes to the great-grandmother of all headaches and the even worse realization that ex-husband William was touching her; stroking and caressing her hair and chin.

It had to be another nightmare. She tried sitting up and gasped. Her ribs felt like she had been run over by a Caterpillar dumper truck, and when she brought a hand to her head it was sporting a bump the size of the Gibraltar rock.

“Relax my little serpent, you had a nasty bump on the head!”

William was stroking her again, and she tried to pull away, gasping in agony at the attempted movement.

“What are you…? D-don’t touch me…”

William’s face turned from gentle concern to anger.

“Well, that’s gratitude for you…”

“W-what do you mean? Why am I here?” Emily realized that she was no longer wearing her homeless woman disguise. It must have been William. The thought of the ex-husband undressing her made Emily’s skin crawl.

“You’re here because I happen to have saved your life. You might want to think about that and what would have happened to you if I hadn’t been there.”

Emily tried to concentrate through the heavy mists of migraine. William? Saved her life? She remembered the men now. Remembered how they had been overpowering her. Remembered the silhouette with the baseball bat. The paralyzing blow.

“But…how…?”

“You should count yourself lucky I happened to have business in the vicinity and saw the men attacking the poor homeless woman.”

“But…there were too many of them. They were armed…How could you…?” Emily was resting a hand against her forehead and closed her eyes in an attempt to alleviate the throbbing agony inside her skull.

“My face and name is not unknown in those parts. They knew better than to mess with me.” William smiled arrogantly.

“I…I suppose I should genuinely thank you then.”

“I suppose you should. I know you have the wrong impression about me…” William put on one of those indignant faces Emily remembered only too well.

“I’m sorry…it’s just…I’ve been having these nightmares, and my head is killing me…can’t think straight…” Emily winced and closed her eyes again.

“I don’t think you had any nightmares while you were resting just now.” William started stroking her chin again, and Emily didn’t have the energy to stop him.

“I suppose I didn’t…”

“I’m sure those nightmares are just your subconscious mind trying to tell you what you already know. That you should be with me. That we belong together. That you’re safe here with me.”

“William…” Emily sighed but couldn’t completely disregard the potential logic of what he was saying. William did play a role in most of her nightmares, and perhaps his failure to save her in those nightmares was because she refused to believe in him and wouldn’t let him in? It certainly seemed significant that this night under his roof had been the first sleep for her without nightmares for… for she couldn’t remember how long anymore. But how could she have known if she was unconscious? She felt like she didn’t know anything anymore. If only her head didn’t hurt so much.

“Tell you what,” William said still stroking her chin and hair, “stay here and rest and recover for a few days, and we’ll see how it goes. If you don’t have any nightmares, you can draw your own conclusions.”

Too tired to protest, Emily nodded, winced, and closed her eyes, drifting off to sleep again.

-0-

William continued stroking her gently for a while and then got up with a final look at his sleeping ex-wife. So pale and fragile right now, but still so beautiful. The most prized among all his possessions.

He left the room to make a call. He needed to instruct the Witch of Mekong to keep holding off with the nightmare spells as long as Emily was in his care.

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    Twelve hundred meters away Sabrehawk observed the scene through the ZC840 scope. Her left hand came up and adjusted the zoom. The magical runes that glowed in soft blues above her left arm dueled with the red glow of her mask's eyes against the matte black scope. The sight picture snapped into focus just in time for the brawling to start.

 

    Under her skull mask she raised an eyebrow. Whoever this woman was she could fight. This wasn't a reporter. Petite women looking for a story only held off multiple fully grown men on TV. Private investigator? Maybe. But Sabrehawk found it unlikely; not with that kind of martial skill. It wasn't a rival in the world of contract killers either. This woman fought to injure. Not to kill.

 

    One possibility loomed large. A superhero.

 

    Frank with the bat in three.. two.. there it is. She had used Frank before. He didn't believe in fair fights. In his view the back was the best place to hit anyone. Yet somehow the woman was still conscious.

 

    She's tough. Superhero for sure. 

 

    Then the whistle. The homeless found their nerve.

 

    Her men lost theirs. 

 

    But who had blow the whistle? The barrel drifted to the right. Then to the left. There. She committed the face to memory. 

 

    A third player in the game. Clearly following someone. Had he been tracking her men? Or the mysterious 'homeless' woman?

 

    To make matters worse she could only track one of them. If she followed the man then the woman would vanish back into the night and all the stakeouts and planning would have been for nothing. Besides, the man was still in good health. He had a better chance of evading her. 

 

    Sabrehawk made her decision.

 

    A cybernetic finger took a device from her belt and stuck it to the side of the rifle. It was about the size of a quarter, black with a red button in the center. She tapped that button. The rifle vanished in a flash of blue light as her base teleporter locked on to the teleporter beacon and yanked the rifle through time and space back to her Grandville hideout. Lugging a fifteen pound rifle from rooftop to rooftop was a great way to lose your query.

 

    A finger tapped a key on her utility belt. One of the two drones that had maintained overwatch above the building dropped out of it's patrol route and locked onto a new target. It darted to five hundred feet in the night sky and sent real time footage from it's nightvision camera to Sabrehawk's mask.

 

    She pried the window open with a robotic hand, slipped through and was soon leaping from rooftop to rooftop.

 


 

    ”There, there, my beautiful angel. I’ve got you now. Everything is going to be okay…”

 

    Sabrehawk lay perfectly still in a ventilation duct. The generally poor quality of construction in the Isles played right into her hands. Points of entrance and egress were rarely secured to the degree needed to stop a supervillain. This wasn't Paragon.

 

    So she lay in a dusty, cramped metal duct and listened.

 

    “Relax my little serpent, you had a nasty bump on the head!”

 

    She didn't recognize the voice. Teeth bit the control interface mounted to her mouthpiece. Isolate vocal recording. Voice recognition.

 

    “What are you…? D-don’t touch me…”

 

    Interesting. Whoever was helping her mystery woman didn't seem to be on good terms with her. Perhaps they were not in league after all.

 

    “You’re here because I happen to have saved your life. You might want to think about that and what would have happened to you if I hadn’t been there.”

 

    Voice recognition completed. Match found. William Chang, male, formerly taught at the University of Copenhagen, employed at Chang Industries- the data feed went on but Sabrehawk cut it off there. There would be time to research this William Chang more later.

 

    For now she needed to extract herself from this ventilation shaft before she was discovered.

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After checking on the still sleeping Lady Cobra once again, William summoned Lung Mao to his office. It took a while for him to notice that his guest had actually arrived.

“Excellent work last night,” William offered as rare appraisal.

Khop khun mâak,” the tracker expressed his gratitude and relief, bowing his head and holding his palms together in a submissive waai.

“But I need you to go back there now and find out all you can about the men attacking her. I need to know who they were, why they were there, and whether my wife was attacked by random, or if she was their intended target.”

“Of course, “ the tracker eagerly confirmed, “I am not sure if the Sao Ngo Haaw was the primary target. They were checking others first, male and female, and rejecting them. But whether it was because they were looking for her or someone or something else, it was hard to tell na khrap.”

“Well I need you to find out the truth of the matter. For starters, check what our people on the ground know. If those men were coming for my wife I may need to warn or pay them off, so they don’t go after her again, also…”

“Yes sir?” The tracker waited for his dreaded superior to continue.

“I may have…uh…slightly exaggerated my own role in the…uh…rescue. Only very slightly of course.” William looked at the tracker dangerously.

“Yes sir.” The tracker kept his head bowed.

“So as you will understand, it is highly important that yourself and anyone else, including those men, corroborate my narrative if my wife were to inquire. Understood?”

“Of course sir.”

“And make sure those men understand too. My wife is off limits and I rescued her. Whether you have to pay them or hurt them to make them understand I don’t care…”

“Of course sir, and if payment should be preferable, may I consider myself empowered to act within the usual limits?”

“Just get the job done, and there’ll be a bonus in it for you too.”

The tracker nodded and rushed off to comply with instructions. William inwardly rejoiced at the man’s obvious terror. It hadn’t been necessary to threaten him with the consequences of failure – the tracker knew all too well that wasn’t a possible outcome.

William smiled and rose from his chair. Now it was time to resume the enjoyable pastime of holding his sleeping beauty’s hand and stroking her hair.

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When she woke, Emily’s headache was feeling much better, and by the time she had enjoyed a warm shower, it was all but gone.

The many hours of sleep uninterrupted by nightmares must also have helped. Perhaps William really was on to something about Emily’s subconscious mind trying to tell her to give him another chance. It defied any logic but sometimes the mind worked in mysterious ways, and maybe it was true what William said that she didn’t always know what was best for her.

Emily started dressing in the clothes William had laid out for her. The white Mizuni skirt and blouse could have come from her own wardrobe and gave off a conflicting vibe. On the one hand, it proved that William knew her style and was genuinely trying to make her feel comfortable, but on the other hand – since Emily had only started wearing the Mizuni brand after befriending Rei and after the divorce – it also gave an eerie indication that William might have been spying on her. Or, of course, the Mizuni brand choice could just be a coincidence. Perhaps she was demonizing William unfairly – making him worse than he really was.

William was having breakfast in the garden as Emily sat down to join him.

“My beautiful White Cobra awakes…” William’s eyes made sure not to miss out on any part of Emily’s body.

“William…” She sighed.

“You can’t blame me for loving you Emily.”

She didn’t reply but accepted William’s offer to pour her some tea. Since he had been drinking from the same pot, Emily hoped she wouldn’t have too much to fear.

“I trust you slept well and without any nightmares?” William inquired.

Emily nodded and sipped her tea.

“Well…I rest my case then,” William smiled, “and it would appear your subconscious mind has ruled in my favor already.”

“I…I guess we’ll see…” Emily bit her lip.

“And just to underline my point, in addition to saving your well-sculptured backside already, I am trying to ensure that no further harm comes to it.” William folded his arms across the chest.

“You are?”

“I’m making sure those men don’t try coming after you again.”

“They won’t…I think…they weren’t there for me.”

“What were they there for then?” It felt like William was drawing on his experience as courtroom cross-examinator.

“I think they were targeting the homeless. Several have gone missing. I don’t know why. But that was why I was there, in disguise…although I hadn’t thought things through properly obviously…” Emily’s gaze dropped.

“Well then you may have angered someone…someone powerful enough to organize an operation like that. I don’t think you’re safe out there until I have taken care of it.”

“I can look after myself William…You don’t need to…”

“Yes, we saw a fine example of that the other night, didn’t we? If I hadn’t been there, you might be a zombie or failed experiment or worse by now…I…don’t want to lose you again Emily…I quite simply won’t allow it!”

Emily bit her lip again. It was probably best not to challenge William for now. Maybe wait a day or two and get her full strength back before forcing the issue. In the meantime, she would make sure to call her friend and speak with the Lady of Allure.

LCText1.jpg

Edited by White Cobra
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”I must say Takuma, you really are the perfect wingman. I would never have dared approach those two on my own, let alone have had any idea what to say to them.” Lord Baraclough nodded appreciatively in the direction of the two beauties that had just left to powder their noses but already accepted to continue the party back at the Nakayima penthouse. The blonde was a Paragon Illustrated model and the brunette a celebrity influencer and beach volley player.

“What can I say,” Takuma smiled, “I do tend to have that effect on women.”

“But what about your fiancé, doesn’t she mind?"

“Well, Rei-chan is crazy about me, obviously, but she knows better than to crowd me. Like it or not, she knows I need some space.” Takuma’s Eurasian eyes glinted confidently, accustomed as they were to mass-conquering female defensive bastions.

“You’re one lucky man, I’m telling you! To have that Mizuni heiress all to yourself and still being allowed out to play.” Lord Baraclough shook his head in admiration.

“It’s just a question of setting the rules straight. Let them know that they can have you but only on your terms. Yes, Rei is going crazy with jealousy, but it keeps her on her toes in the pleasing department if you get my drift…”

“Oh…so you…?”

“Well…” Nakayima clearly wasn’t too pleased with that question. “She’s…conservative in that way…saving herself for the wedding and all that nonsense…if nothing else it will give me the fun of breaking her in.”

Nakayima and his friend laughed heartily and prepared for their two companions to return. They were obviously far less conservatively minded than Rei Mizuni. It was going to be a very enjoyable evening.

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Shortly after midnight, a slender, ponytailed figure hurried to her bedroom, glancing over her shoulder to make sure that nobody was watching.

She entered the secret elevator at the back of her large walk-in closet. Moments later, she had arrived in her underground lair. After yet another conspiratory glance over her shoulder, she quickly removed her Mizuni fashion line clothing and retrieved new attire from a huge security vault that only she could access.

The costume was skin-tight and all white except for the red circle symbolizing the hinomaru. It made the wearer a perfect walking portrayal of the Japanese flag.

A final conspiratory glance over her shoulder later, the ponytailed Avenging Angel was off on her black Ducati ready for that night’s patrol.

ReiAA1a.jpg

Edited by White Cobra
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William Chang closed his eyes and pictured his mental chessboard, contemplating the next move.

Lung Mao was taking his time fixing the issue with the men who had attacked William’s wife, and now Emily was talking about going home. He didn’t want her back on the streets until the danger was sorted; well he didn’t want her out of his house under any circumstances. So what to do? He could always drug or poison her of course but he wasn’t sure how his little creations would stack with the nightmare spells, and Emily was bound to get suspicious if she suddenly fell ill. That wouldn’t do, just now when she was beginning to trust him again. No, he would…

“HOW DARE YOU!”

The door to William’s study burst open and Anni Nakayima stormed in as if she had spent the whole afternoon drinking from the Well of Furies.

“Anni…calm down…”

“I will not have that flirtatious little slut staying under our roof!” Anni slammed her fist into William’s desk.

“Technically, it’s my roof, and Emily is not a…”

“Oh give me a break! That scheming harlot has been trying to sink her venomous little fangs back into you ever since you left her…”

“Well you can hardly blame her for wanting me back can you? And it’s not like that. I found her on the streets of Port Oakes…”

“Oh…I would have thought that was a little too upmarket for her. Trying to ply her trade there…” Anni snorted.

“Streetwalking was not what I implied. I found her there, wounded.”

“For heaven’s sake! Can’t you see she is using you? Manipulating you! It’s the same every time. She gets herself in trouble and then comes running to you crying for help, that conniving, treacherous…”

“That’s not what happened!” William’s stare would have frightened Anni if she hadn’t been so caught up in jealous rage.

“And what do you think our business partners would say, if they knew that you were harboring Lady Promiscuous here?”

“They don’t know, and if they did they would be wise to follow my instructions…”

“Well I want her gone! This instance!”

“She needs rest. To recuperate.”

“Well she can do that somewhere else. I’m sure she can find an establishment renting by the hour and if she can’t, I will bloody well find one for her myself!”

“Anni…”

“I mean it William. I want her gone! Luckily for the both of you I have to go and arrange that dinner for Takuma and Rei now. I’m late already! Just make sure she is gone when I come back, or I’ll wring her neck myself!”

Anni left slamming the door. For once, William hadn’t gotten the last word.

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    Frank Williams pondered his next move as his Harley Davison rumbled through the trash strew streets of Mercy. Nobody bothered him. Not with the Mercy Maulers Motorcycle Club patch on his faded black leather jacket.

 

    He was thirty seven years old. Six foot two and two hundred and thirty five pounds. Wanted in Washington State for felonious assault and Oregon for homicide in the third degree. Brass knuckles in his right pocket, a six inch knife in his boot and a 1911 chamber in .45 in his waistband. Frank wasn't scared of much. He knew how to handle himself. He also knew that working for supervillains was a two edged sword. Sure, the money was good and the protection from other supervillains was a must in the Rogue Isles. But they didn't always see things rationally. Some of them were down right crazy.

 

    Take this Sabrehawk broad. Sure, she had a reputation but Frank wasn't too sure about anybody who made their living backflipping off roofs with a cape. Why didn't they wear regular clothes?

 

    As he rolled around the last corner before his apartment he saw her. She was sitting on the ledge of his porch just staring at nothing. Wearing her skull mask, black skin tight body armor and her cape. Red on the inside, black on the outside.

 

    Speak of the devil, he thought as he rolled up on the sidewalk and booted the kickstand down.

 

    "'Sup." He said.

 

    "Why did you run?" She replied. He was struck by the modulation on her mask. It gave her voice a metallic, digital sound. Frank wasn't sure if he'd recognize her voice if he heard her without the mask. It occurred to him that was probably the point.

 

    "What?"

 

    "The homeless run in Port Oakes. Someone blew a whistle and you ran. All of you."

 

    "It's the Ngo Damh. That's their signal, ya know?"

 

    "No I don't."

 

    "Yeah, one of 'em blows that thing and then they're crawling out of the woodwork."

 

    "I didn't see any."

 

     "Trust me. They were there."

 

    "I don't."

 

    "What?"

 

    "Trust you."

 

    He paused for a moment. Then snorted. "Whatever lady. That's their turf. They were comin-"

 

    "How many of them were there?" She cut him off.

 

    "How should I know? I didn't see the-"

 

    "So you don't know if there were any at all."

 

    "I heard the whistle!"

 

    "But you didn't see them."

 

    "Nah." He narrowed his eyes. "How did you know about the whistle?" They'd left out what happened when they reported back in that evening. Just told their club president they didn't find any suitable candidates.

 

    "There were six of you."

 

    "So? Ngo Damh hunt in big packs."
 

    "Oh? How many would that be?"

 

    He threw up his hands. "Hell if I know. I left before they showed up."

 

    "Yeah. You did."

 

    "What's it to you anyway?"

 

    "I pay good money for the services of your little bicycle club Frank. Too good for you to cut and run because you heard a whistle."

 

    "Yeah? Well I don't give a shi-" He paused. Thought better of what he was about to say. Some of these caped types could be a little crazy. Besides, she was paying the club good money and his cut wasn't bad. "Look. Things got harry. We called it off for the evening. Things happen ya know?"

 

    "I do. But 'things' hadn't happened. You don't know how many of them there were. You don't even know if they were armed. If you had fought, maybe you could have won."

 

    He shrugged. "Well we didn't. What'cha gonna do? Fire me?"

 

    She didn't say anything to that. Just climbed to her feet and stood on his porch. He couldn't help but notice how tall she was. Almost as tall as he was.

 

    "Look, I've got a wife and a kid and shit to do." He climbed off the bike and motioned to his front door.

 

     "Yeah. They're waiting on you." Only then did he notice his front door was open. Not much. Just a couple inches.

 

    He paused. Put a hand inside his pocket where his brass knuckles were. "They're waiting inside?"

 

    "No." She reached behind her back. He saw the pistol when her cybernetic hand passed her hip.

 

    It was too late.

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Emily sighed with relief as she could finally settle down in her own favorite armchair, safely back home again.

Why William had suddenly agreed to let her leave she didn’t know but she had certainly wasted no time taking advantage of his unexpected moment of forthcomingness and had hurried to escape his clutches.

Emily sipped from a cup of peppermint tea as she waited for the Facetime connection to Khrung Thêp to go through. Finally, the masked face of the Lady of Allure appeared on the screen.

Watdii khâ phîi,” Emily smiled and formed her hands in a waai.

Watdii caa nóong,” the Lady of Allure returned the gesture.

After a mutual update on how things were going for each of them, Emily turned to the worrying issue of her nightmares and the hope that her magically skilled friend could help her.

“And they are not like ordinary nightmares either, they are much more lifelike, and they stay with you and haunt you even after you’re awake…”

“And you’re saying that they stopped once you stayed at his house, na kha?” The Lady of Allure’s eyes narrowed in concentration.

Chây khâ, so I can’t help thinking…what if William is right? What if it really is my subconscious mind telling me that I should  be with him?”

Across the globe, the Lady of Allure frowned.

“I will almost guarantee you nóong that is not the explanation…”

“But…” Emily started only to find the Lady of Allure angrily interrupting her.

“It was an abusive relationship…he was violent, manipulating…surely nóong…that is not the answer you’re looking for!” William would not have liked the look on the masked heroine’s face.

“I know…it’s just…confusing…he always does that to me…” Emily bit her lip.

“Whatever you do, promise me you don’t go back to him until I have looked into it, na kha?”

Emily nodded, “but what if…”

“Even if you have another nightmare, na kha!” The masked heroine looked at Emily sternly and - probably quite appropriately - the picture froze with just that expression painted on the Lady of Allure’s face but the voice was still coming through.

“I don’t know if he has given you some kind of poison or drug…it wouldn’t be the first time na kha…or perhaps it could be some sort of black magic spell. I am hearing rumors about Ngo Damh experimenting from up North. But I will need to check. Just promise me you will be careful, and I will call you tomorrow na kha.”

Emily thanked her friend and they said their goodbyes. She tried reading a few passages from her poetry book but found that she couldn’t concentrate. Darkness was falling outside, and the fear of having another nightmare was starting to invade her thoughts.

Cobrac1.jpg

Edited by White Cobra
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Rei Mizuni did not exactly welcome the dinner invitation from Anni Nakayima.

The prospect of spending an evening in the company of the gold-digging femme fatale and her hysterical antics was sanity threatening enough in itself, but even worse would be the presence of her self-important playboy son and his never-ending persistence in trying to add Rei to his near-endless list of female conquests.

There was no doubt Takuma was handsome, and his interest in her more than a little flattering but she was not going to fool herself. The man was obviously incapable of even contemplating the concept of fidelity as anything other than a bad joke, and there was no way Rei would let herself become just another notch in his belt.

Besides, for all his good looks, his arrogance was unendurable, and he had all the charm and presence of a moray eel. Rei knew only too well that Anni Nakayima wanted Takuma to marry her for the money and to let him assume control of the Mizuni empire, and Rei would sooner skinny-dip in a pool of hunger strike-emerging piranhas than let that happen.

Yes, there was considerable social pressure on her to produce an heir to the Mizuni empire, and one day she would have to consider marriage, but when that time came, the object of her romantic affection was sure to be someone for whom the idea of monogamy was not an absurdity or dirty word. Besides, with William Chang as the possible exception, Takuma Nakayima was probably the last person in the known universe she would want to provide genetic contribution to her child.

Rei scowled.

The RSVP deadline was tomorrow. She would try to see if she could come up with a socially acceptable excuse to decline the invitation before then.

ReiAA2b.jpg

Edited by White Cobra
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Sighing, I placed the cellphone on the table and rubbed my temple. Lately it seemed easier to note when I wasn’t having a headache than the opposite.

Although not a doctor, Alfred Marshall would no doubt be quick to diagnose the source of my recurring migraines. Too much demand on my mental faculties and a shameful lack of intellectual supply.

It wasn’t helping that the nightmares had started again. A milder one this time but still. In this one, I was undercover as a patient at a psychiatric facility, although why I was wearing the Lady Cobra costume undercover was a mystery. The rest was textbook stuff. Cover blown, captured by deranged doctor, straitjacket and restraints, forcibly injected with hallucinogenics, and then – just before waking up with a start, and even though I wasn’t aware of being a coulrophobe – the inevitable axe-wielding maniac killer clown.

The Lady of Allure had called, still talking about black magic spells, warning me about William, and saying that she needed more time.

And then nóong Rei had called to warn me. She had met with a mysterious woman, wearing a skull mask, and based on nóong Rei’s account apparently some sort of mercenary. Sabrehawk she was called, and according to what she had told Rei, she may have seen me in the presence of William, and she suspected me of having somehow interfered with her business. Unless she was abducting homeless people in Port Oakes, it didn’t make much sense.

My heart suddenly took a break from beating. Unless…Could she be the mastermind behind the kidnappings? Could the men who beat me up be working for her? Rei certainly warned me that the woman was dangerous, offering to mediate between us.

Suppressing the headache and accompanying nausea, I turned to my laptop. A female mercenary calling herself Sabrehawk and wearing a skull mask. If anything was publicly known about her, that information shouldn’t be too difficult to find.

Cobrapcaa.jpg

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