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


White Cobra
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There was no denying the relief Emily Chang felt as she returned home, locking the front door behind her.

The meeting with the skull masked mercenary, Sabrehawk, had gone much better than Emily had dared hope for, let alone expected. Their dialogue had been respectful, civilized, reasonable even, and there might actually be a non-violent compromise solution to the source of their potential dispute.

The “official clinical trial” route would require help from Rei Mizuni and one of her countless corporate divisions and it was far from a done deal, but the mercenary had kindly given Emily 14 days to get a solution in place and given the circumstances that was a more than generous and workable deadline.

Surprisingly enough, the mercenary had also proven to be something of a martial arts kindred spirit and possibly sharing some of the Lady Cobra’s own honor code in that respect, and it would appear that they could find a mutual enemy in Ngo Damh and pool their efforts in bringing that ruthless, and currently aggressively expansionary, ang yee down.

Based on their discussion, Sabrehawk might be going for the one-eyed enforcer Khun Ngo, and although her methods might be somewhat different from the Lady Cobra’s own, it was not something Emily expected to be losing any noteworthy sleep over. As opposed to the current spate of nightmares, she reminded herself grimly. Again last night, an invasive axe-wielding maniac killer clown had disturbed her sleep but, while not exactly pleasant, Emily had certainly experienced much worse on the nocturnal intrusion front lately.

Emily bit her lip as her thoughts turned to another important learning of the day.

William had lied to her. Again. Emily probably shouldn’t be surprised by that but she still felt like kicking herself for almost falling for his manipulative orchestrations yet again.

He hadn’t saved her from the baseball bat-wielding gang of homeless abductors. He hadn’t even been there. Emily still couldn’t quite understand why he would lie about something so easily verifiable as that. William must take her for an even bigger idiot than she had thought before.

And even the mercenary had gotten creepy vibes off Emily’s ex-husband and advised her strongly against going back to him. Given William’s lies about the “rescue”, his sudden “expert” psychology advice about the reasons for Emily’s nightmares had certainly also lost any remaining credibility she might otherwise have attached to it.

Emily shook her head at her own stupidity as she poured a cup of boiling peppermint tea from the kettle. But now it was the time to look forward. It had been a productive day, and she could feel some of her tension lifted already.

Even the headache was gone for now, so with a little bit of luck she might actually make some progress with her current romantic poetry book.

With William’s shadow corrupting any prospect of real-world romance, it was nice to be able to rest with her mind submerged in fictional love and her body embraced by steaming, jasmine-scented bathwater.  

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    Thunder rumbled. Rain fell in sheets. Lightning crisscrossed the sky, illuminating the streets of Port Oakes in blue-and-white. In that flash of brilliant light Sabrehawk's profile was cast in stark relief. She stood atop one of the industrial powerlines that fed a Cage Consortium warehouse.

 

    No staff to balance with. And she did not crouch. She just stood two stories in the air, both feet balanced on a single cable while rain pelted her skin tight body armor.

 

    She was working. And thinking.

 

    Sabrehawk had a lot to think about. Of late she had a face to face meeting with both Rei Mizuni and Lady Cobra. The killer for hire had learned a few things. For example, Lady Cobra's real name was Emily Chang and she was the ex-wife of William Chang. The title Lady Cobra was a legacy name, once possessed by Emily's mother and (Sabrehawk assumed) other ancestors before her. These Lady Cobras had fought a generational war against the Ngo Damh, a criminal organization from east Asia. Now somehow the ex-husband of Emily, William Chang had wormed his way into a position of leadership with the Ngo Damh. Nor was that all; William was also the head of Chang Industries.

 

    And William had been causing problems for her latest client, the aforementioned Rei Mizuni, head of the Mizuni corporate empire and Sabrehawk's latest client.

 

    The shortest path between two points was a straight line. Likewise the simplest method to end Chang Industries meddling was to find Mr. William Chang and kill him. But the client didn't want that.

 

    Clients were always making simple things complicated.

 

    Apparently there were rumors swirling about the Mizuni corporate empire. Rumors about an association with the Yakuza. That she could understand. If corporate rivals begin dropping dead in suspicious circumstances that could lead to an investigation. Which could lead to a dip in stock prices. Among other things.

 

    A sudden gust of wind caught her black and red cape, whipping it violently to the side. Sabrehawk swayed like a serpent on the powerline. Her footing never slipped. The wind passed but the gears inside her mind never stopped turning.

 

    The Ngo Damh. Williams criminal help. They were a double edged sword. On one hand, they gave William force projection on the streets of the Isles. An deniable asset that could reach out and touch his rivals. Much like Sabrehawk herself. On the other hand William couldn't admit his association with them for much the same reason as Rei Mizuni could not admit any hypothetical Yakuza connections. 

 

    William too had to fear the SEC investigation. The FBI anti-corruption task force. The media reports. The short sellers. The stock dip. 

 

    The Ngo Damh were his weakness. Through them she could send a very clear message; Rei Mizuni has money. A lot of it and if William Chang wanted to acquire the services of the Ngo Damh well, Mizuni could acquire the services of professional killers. Such as Sabrehawk. And William could not dare complain lest he admit his organized crime connections.

 

    The Americans took a dim view of that sort of thing. Americans also loved to seize assets.

 

    Ahead a black limo pulled out of the Cage Consortium warehouse. Sabrehawk plucked one of the hilts of her twin hardlight blades from her belt and spun it around into a reverse grip.

 

    She knew just how to speak to the Ngo Damh in a language they could understand. They were part of the same world, after all.

 

    The limo stopped at the security post.

 

    In fact she had learned of a certain Khun Ngo, a member of the Ngo Damh with some level of notoriety. Muay Thai expert. Always armed and always dangerous. One eye. Liked to fight dirty.

 

    Sabrehawk could relate.

 

    She decided to beat him until he begged.

 

    The gate opened and the limo rolled out onto the road, windshield wipers flicking back and forth. The limo took a left and drove under the powerline Sabrehawk was standing on. She tilted her toes down and slid off the powerline. The hardlight blade came alive in her hands. White-blue, like a slice of lightning. She landed on top of the limo in a crouch, blade pointed straight down.

 

    It punched through the armored roof as if it were tissue paper. Through the bald head of the Cage Consortium executive. Through his fat neck and through his heart. 

 

    Sabrehawk flipped the blade off with a thumb while her other hand slapped the teleporter on her belt. She vanished in a flash.

 

    Armored limo doors flew open and bodyguards swarmed the car. Moments later the howl of an ambulance siren cut through the wind and rain. 

 

    Miles away Sabrehawk stepped off the teleporter pad in one of her safehouses and sent a message to one of the executives ambitious subordinates. The path to his promotion was open.

 

    Now pay up.

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”You lied to me!”

William looked up from his glass of Armagnac. Agitated women storming in on him seemed to be quite the mode du jour lately. At least it was Emily this time and not Anni Nakayima. Oh well, on with the act…one indignant face coming up…

“I did nothing of the sort – I have no idea what you’re on about.” He turned to face his angry wife.

“You lied about rescuing me from those men. You weren’t even there!”

“That is the most…outrageous accusation…really Emily…” William shook his head and sipped from his drink.

“I spoke with a witness…they said you weren’t there!”

William took a few seconds to pause. Emily really seemed upset. He had almost forgotten just how much he enjoyed seeing her like that.

“Well that self-proclaimed witness is either mistaken or lying or made the whole thing up…” William attempted to pat his wife’s arm but she pulled away.

“I don’t believe you…why should they lie?”

William had to concentrate hard not to smile. Emily was actually hugging herself. So adorably hurt and vulnerable. His only regret was that he wasn’t getting this on video. It would be almost as good as watching her therapy session tapes.

“And why in heaven’s name should I? And even if I should have applied a slight angle to any account of saving you it would only be because I am madly in love with you and desperate to get you back, and you just keep wanting to hate me, still blaming me for Jessica no doubt…” He paused again. Jessica was always the royal flush hand to play to defeat her.

“Don’t…”

Oh, her voice breaking and lip quivering. William couldn’t wait to see if she was actually going to cry. No, eyes moist but she looked like she would just keep it together for now. A shame but couldn’t be helped.

“Look darling, give me the name of this alleged witness, and I am sure we can clear up any misunderstanding…”

“I am not giving you their name…I don’t trust you not to try to harm them…”

William’s eyes narrowed. Why was Emily being so protective of this witness could it be…

“Is it a man,” he hissed, “someone trying to get you into his bed and me conveniently out of the picture? Is that it?” The glass of Armagnac was almost crushed between his fingers but miraculously he managed to contain the precious liquid inside.

“I am not telling you…and trust me they are not trying to do that.”

“So it’s a woman? Can you confirm that?”

“As I said…I am not telling you anything…”

“So it is a man! I knew it,” he flung the glass against the wall and started hammering his fist against the bookshelf. “I knew it, I knew it, I knew it! Anni was right, you really are a shameless little…”

Emily had cowered backwards at first but unfortunately looked less terrified than he was accustomed to. She even had the audacity of talking back.

“So Anni Nakayima is pointing the moral finger at me, that’s rich…” Emily shook her head. “I suppose I should be flattered she could fit the character assassination into her busy schedule of wall-to-wall plastic surgery…”

William lifted his fist at her, and he saw his wife hesitate, a bit like in the old days, but he had to control himself. The timing was wrong. He had to get her back first. Had to gain her confidence. His knuckles were bleeding from contact with the books anyway. How dare she make him do that? But no, the timing was wrong, he had to control himself.

“Listen Emily. I’m sorry for losing my temper, but I’m sure you can understand my frustration at being shamelessly lied about like that. And it just happens that I have an actual real-life witness who can confirm what I have told you. I didn’t want to mention it before because…”

“I still don’t believe you…and…because what?”

“Because he is Ngo Damh. I know you don’t exactly have warm feelings about them and vice versa.”

“They have almost less witness credibility than you.”

Emily was shaking her head and then biting her lip again. Worried, hurt, confused. This was more like it, William thought. Probably a good time to change the subject.

“And what about the nightmares? Have they returned after you have gone back home?”

“No, I’m afraid your theory was wrong. I have slept like a baby.”

William clenched his aching fists so tightly the blood started seeping out again. Either the Witch had made a mistake or the little… was lying.

“I see. Well good for you I suppose. Let’s hope it stays that way.” Even to William, his tone sounded menacing.

“It will, as long as you finally get the message I came to deliver. I want you to STAY AWAY from me! Leave me alone, once and for all, or bruised knuckles will be the least of your worries…with that plasticized paragon of feminine virtue Anni Nakayima at your side it shouldn’t be too hard to forget me anyway.”

Emily’s slamming of the door gave Anni Nakayima’s rival effort from a few days earlier a good run for its money. William watched her vanishing frame through the window as she hurried down the driveway.

He shook his head and found another glass and the bottle of Armagnac. As soon as he had finished the drink he was going to call the Witch and tell her to conjure up a nightmare spell Emily wouldn’t soon forget, something about Jessica perhaps. And then he would call Lung Mao and give him 24 hours to come up with solid info on who that meddling witness could be.

William had a feeling they would soon be changing their story and agreeing to keep their dirty hands off his wife unless they wanted to find themselves in a snake-filled casket.

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Of all the nightmares mysteriously plaguing Emily lately, this had been the worst by far. It was the one nightmare she couldn’t awake from sighing in relief and telling herself it had only been a dream. It was the nightmare from which she awoke, realizing first that she had emerged from a bad dream, and realizing second that real life was even worse.

At least in the dream, the Lady Cobra had been able to see Jessica and the nanny. At least she had been able to give chase. And even if they always turned a new corner just out of reach each time she came near, at least she could still see them again up ahead and give chase and come so close she could almost touch her daughter before they vanished round the corner again.

That dream had dangled a cruel carrot of hope before her sleeping eyes, and the waking reality that there had been no real-life Jessica, that she was still hopelessly gone, was dealing a crushing blow to Emily’s spirit now that she opened her eyes.

Just showering and getting dressed exhausted her as if she had done a triple-ironman, and when the phone rang she could barely bring herself to answer. But it was a Thai number, so she didn’t have any choice.

The Lady of Allure’s soothing voice greeted her as Emily answered.

“I think I found the root of your problems na kha!” the masked mystery woman said.

“Thank heavens for that. I just had…” Emily’s voice broke, and the Lady of Allure comforted her a while before continuing the account.

“It was just as I suspected. A black magic spell most likely. A nightmare spell. Ngo Damh have been using it on their rivals and other victims lately. I have been researching night and day na kha…”

“Can it be…cured? Reversed?” Emily bit her lip.

“I think so. At least I have an idea. But I will have to come and be with you. I have tickets booked already.”

“But…I can’t ask you to do that for me…surely…”

“Nonsense nóong…this is nasty stuff na kha, and you need my help. I will be on the plane in three hours.”

“I feel awful for being a nuisance to you like this.” Emily closed her tired eyes. However embarrassed she felt for causing the Lady of Allure this inconvenience, she couldn’t deny it would be a great comfort and pleasure to be reunited with her friend again.

“There is one strange thing na kha. Did someone have access to a hair and skin sample from you lately?”

Emily’s eyes widened. “I…I don’t think so.”

“That is the strange thing. Your mother said the same for her and Sophia. But if my findings are correct, a successful spell would require the presence of a reasonably fresh hair and skin sample, either from you or from a female family member closely related na kha.” The Lady of Allure sounded as confused as Emily felt.

“How…uh…closely related?” Emily bit her lip again. She worried there soon wouldn’t be anything left for her to chew.

“Very closely. Either from yourself, your mother, a sister, or…” The Thai sorceress paused again.

Emily felt as if a whole colony of spider eggs had suddenly hatched inside her stomach with the newborns eagerly exploring each and every corner of their abdominal nest.

“Or…?”

“Well…as far as I know that would be impossible na kha. The only other option would be…a daughter.”

The phone dropped from Emily’s hands. A daughter! She jabbed a fingernail into her arm to make sure this wasn’t just another dream, another cruel twist of the nightmare, dangling that carrot of hope in front of her again, only to then let her wake up. It hurt, a lot, so perhaps it really wasn’t a dream. A daughter! Jessica! Could it…could it really be a sign that Jessica was still alive?

Emily knelt down, fumbling for the phone on the floor.

“Nóong are you okay?” Emily could hear the worried voice of her friend. She tried to steady her breath. Could this really be the glimmer of hope she had been waiting for for so long?

“Are you okay?” it came again.

Emily closed her eyes and smiled. Okay? Yes, for the first time since that fateful night years ago, she felt that she actually almost was.

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Downpressor Man, where’re you gonna run to…

Peter Tosh on full volume tended to drown out the screams, and Khun Ngo liked it that way, any lyrical irony happily lost on him.

They all had a breaking point. For some it was snakes or scorpions. For some it was rats or a certain type of pain. For some it was a particular part of the body like the teeth or the eyes. Khun Ngo could relate to that last part; his eye patch a constant reminder of the one that had been claimed by the stiletto boot heel of that cowardly little do-gooder from back home in Muang Thai, the Lady Cobra.

But whatever it turned out to be, they all had one.

For Devil Jim Brady, proud member of the Mercy Maulers MC, it was spiders. A quintet of angry funnel webs to be more precise. Khun Ngo probably wouldn’t have much fancied them crawling on himself either. In any event the biker had given up details of the mastermind hiring them to kidnap the homeless almost before the first bite; apparently – at least in that moment – more terrified of the spiders than of her.

Because it was a woman. A female martial arts proficient warrior wearing a skull faced mask. Khun Ngo kind of liked that. It was almost a shame all he had to do was to pass on the information to Lung Mao. Otherwise he would rather have fancied having a go at this mystery woman himself.

Khun Ngo didn’t particularly like the sneaky Lung Mao, but he did owe him a favor from back when the tracker had assisted him with finding some sordid private information that could help Khun Ngo to persuade that beautiful waitress he lusted after to take a more favorable approach to his carnal advances.

Also, if the tracker really was passing the information on to Khun William, Khun Ngo knew the wisdom of keeping his distance. Khun William’s jealous protectiveness of his former wife and his poisonous messages of suffering and death to anyone daring – be it actually or just in Khun William’s mind - to come between them was the only reason Khun Ngo himself hadn’t hunted down and killed that costumed bitch already as revenge for the lost eye.

The methods applied by Khun William were something to make even Khun Ngo cower in terror. It was like he said. They all had a breaking point. Even Khun Ngo himself.

Edited by White Cobra
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    "You don't understand what they'll do to me!"

 

    Sabrehawk didn't say anything. Just laid a stainless steel briefcase on the rickety table in the corner of the Pork Oakes basement.

 

    "Answer the question."

 

    "I can't. I can't! You don't get it Sabre. You don't know what they're like."

 

    She punched a combination into the lock and opened the case. Unloaded the case with a cybernetic hand. Pliers. A scalpel; it gleamed yellow in the light of the single bulb dangling from a wire in the center of the room. A dental drill. Blowtorch.

 

    Jimmy 'Nine O'Clock' Palmetto swallowed. They called him Nine O'Clock because like the nine o'clock news he knew everything going down in Port Oakes. Including where Khun Ngo spent his free time.

 

    "You don't wanna do this Sabre. I've got friends you know."

 

    "I know."

 

    "They won't take this laying down, you hear me? You can't just push us around like this. They'll come after you."

 

    "I know."

 

    She picked up the pliers. Opened and closed them. Set them down and picked up the scalpel. Her skull mask could be seen in the mirror polished blade. She turned and looked at Jimmy with the red glow of her eye lenses.

 

    He looked at the door.

 

    "You won't make it."

 

    Jimmy tried anyway.

 

    He didn't make it.

 


 

    Sabrehawk wiped the blood from the scalpel and slipped it back under it's elastic strap in the briefcase. Closed it with a click. Jimmy gurgled behind her as she opened the door. Stopped. Bent and removed a tooth stuck in one of her boots tread. 

 

    She closed the door behind her.

 

    True to his namesake Jimmy had known the answers to her questions. Khun Ngo liked to hang out at a little gambling joint on the intersection of 14th and Gambler Street. Dancers and cards. And a lot of Ngo Damh muscle. That was fine with her.

 

    Now to find Jimmy's friends before they found her.

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A mercenary wearing a skull face mask? A woman? And she was the mastermind behind the homeless abductions and the attack on his wife?

There had been no hiding William’s initial skepticism but Lung Mao had been adamant and he would never dare lie about it.

The mercenary part became William well. It should mean he could rely on the preferred option of paying the woman off to keep her from sending more men after Emily and using her for whatever sinister purpose had triggered the spate of kidnappings.

The woman part was more 50/50. On the one hand, in William’s vast experience, women were much more trusting and easier to manipulate than their male counterparts, albeit granted they weren’t all as easy to prey on as Emily. This was of course good. On the other hand, it could mean that she was less susceptible to greed, but still. If she had any sense at all – financial or in the health awareness  department – she would wise up and accept William’s offer.

William took a healthy sip of his brandy and allowed himself a rare smile of satisfaction. Not only from the exquisite taste of the amber fluid burning in his throat but also from a sudden strike of inspiration.

The mercenary was a woman and  of extreme combative skill by all accounts. Maybe William wouldn’t just try to pay her off. Maybe he had a much more interesting and lucrative offer to make her.

William nodded and smiled to himself. He had almost finished the brandy, but this brilliant scheme he had just come up with certainly seemed to warrant the opening of another bottle.

Edited by White Cobra
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To any observer the two women dressed in black might have been sisters.

In many ways, the Lady of Allure did feel like an older sister to Emily. One who had given her help and advice many times throughout the years and never more so than in the dreadful weeks and months after Jessica’s disappearance.

And now she had come to Paragon to help Emily once again. She had sat next to Emily’s bed at night helping to ease the nightmares and using her research and powers to find a way to reverse the black magic spell, but on this cold and windy evening her skills were needed for another purpose.

Breaking into the Chang Industries headquarters was risky business even under the best of circumstances, and with the current overabundance of Ngo Damh security forces present it was verging on the suicidal but Emily had to know if William’s office could hold any clues to Jessica’s or the nanny’s whereabouts or to the location from where the current Ngo Damh black magic experiments were being conducted. With William’s connections to the East Asian ang yee it was obvious to suspect that he might be behind - or at least involved in or knowledgeable about – the nightmare spells afflicting Emily, and even if that had only been a remote possibility, it was something that the Lady Cobra could not afford to overlook.

The Lady of Allure’s effectiveness was nigh unbelievable. Emily had no idea exactly how the sorceress’ mind control powers worked, but the instance they approached the two guards manning the main security terminal – and notwithstanding their somewhat conspicuous black cat burglar or spy attire – the guards fell under her spell and complied with her suddenly very sensible suggestion of shutting down the security camera video surveillance and handing Emily one of their “all areas” access cards.

Now Emily just needed to hurry. The Lady of Allure could keep the two guards under her control relatively effortlessly, but if any of the many patrols were to stop by to check on the terminal she might be in trouble.

The access card performed its” open sesame” duties admirably and soon Emily was inside William’s office and had activated the headband flashlight and camera that would allow her to rifle through any papers she could find.

The locked cabinets only represented a mild hindrance. The hours of lockpicking training with one of her mother’s business associates in Croydon had been well spent and these ones were no real challenge. William’s truly important documents would obviously be kept under more safe guard somewhere else, but she was just hoping for some small clue to guide her search – something he didn’t deem important enough, something he wouldn’t think could give him away. He had no reason to suspect that Emily knew of the nightmare spells, and she prayed that this might have made him careless. Just a little bit might be enough to give her something to go on. Anything, even the smallest hint, would be better than the nothing she had been forced to contend with for all these years.

Snap, snap, snap. Picture after picture, document after document. She wouldn’t know for sure if she had anything useful until she could get back home and study the photographed papers under more safe conditions. Another cabinet done. One more to go. Emily checked her watch. If the guard patrol routines were followed she should just have the time to go through that last one.

-0-

Minutes later, Emily was on her way back to the terminal. That last lock had given her a bit of trouble and she had to hurry to beat the patrol.

Finally back on the ground floor she turned a corner and…froze.

Taking a silent step back, her mind processed the scene she had just witnessed.

The Lady of Allure with her hands up, an automatic rifle pointed at her from one patrol guard while another was trying to reactivate the surveillance cameras. The two original guards seemed still to be under the influence of the Sorceress’ spell.

Emily stood back against the wall and took a few seconds to steady herself and focus, visualizing what she had to do. She grabbed the specially designed Lady Cobra chakram from her belt and focused her mind once again. Then she stepped round the corner and flung the weapon, bringing years of practice into action.

The Lady Cobra chakram was designed to incapacitate, not maim or kill, and incapacitate it did. The rifle wielding guard never knew what hit him. Even before the weapon made impact, Emily was on the move, closing the distance to the other guard, kicking him in the temple as she leapt over the security terminal front desk and knocking him out before he knew there was any threat to be worried about. Incredibly, the two other guards were still smiling blissfully and held under the Lady of Allure’s spell.

The Siamese sorceress nodded thankfully to Emily as the Lady Cobra picked up the chakram and refastened it to her belt. The two heroines helped each other place the unconscious guards in recovery position and then hurried off to safety.

With the two injured guards the operation had been more messy than they would have hoped and they hadn’t dared to wait for the guards to regain consciousness so the Lady of Allure could make them forget or provide them with a false memory of how they had gotten their injuries. So William would know there had been an attack on his headquarters and that the intruder – or one of them – had been a black-clad woman, but this was an unfortunate outcome that couldn’t be helped for now and one with a possible fallout they would have to deal with later. If only those guards had kept to their routine.

-0-

Back home, the two friends could finally peel back their black headcovers and relax over a cup of steaming tea. They were alive and unharmed albeit more than a little bit shaken over the unfortunate close encounter with the early patrol. Now would come the laborious task of looking through all the photographed documents in search of even the tiniest clue.

Emily sighed. With the sleepless night of work ahead, at least she wouldn’t have to worry about nightmares.

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Edited by White Cobra
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The dinner reminded Rei of an expression she had heard during a boarding school Blackadder rerun marathon.

This had to be what Prince Ludwig the indestructible had meant when he threatened with a fate worse than a fate worse than death. Just as she thought it couldn’t get any more tormenting, William Chang leaned into her personal space, the tip of his nose practically taking a dip into her cleavage.

“And when you marry young Takuma here, it is important you show him absolute loyalty and devotion. Now take my Emily…”

Anni Nakayima’s fist slammed into the table making knives and forks jump.

“I will not have the name of that Siamese skank brought up at my dinner table. Poor Rei will lose her appetite…”

William coughed. “Well, quite, point taken. But in all fairness, Emily isn’t…”

“Oh please! I am just trying to be polite here. Calling her skanky is like saying the pope is a little bit catholic!” Anni snorted.

“But don’t worry Rei-chan,” Takuma combined this reassurance with a facial cleavage-diving expedition that made even William’s effort from a moment ago seem discrete, “When I take over the role of Nakayima-Mizuni CEO, I will still allow you to maintain a few non-domestic activities like say, a charity or two…”

“Is that so…” Rei’s eyes glinted a dangerous black, “well let me assure you perhaps that…”

“Provided of course you have devoted the sufficient time and effort to me like William said…”

Rei toyed with her steak knife, picturing how it would look embedded between Takuma Nakayima’s eyes. Instead of carrying out that idea, she made a point of glancing at her watch and gasping.

“Oh…I see that I have in shortest moment most important…”

“Teleconference?” Anni Nakayima interrupted, “I don’t think so my dear. Not tonight. I spoke to your PA and made sure to clear your schedule. And look, we are hardly done with the main course. Take another helping my dear, after all, I can’t have my daughter-in-law looking that anorectic. You’ll be carrying Takuma’s baby soon!”

For once, Rei didn’t know whether to gasp, gulp, sulk, scowl, or scream. She looked at her clutch and the Mouse panic button hidden inside. Rei had never felt more desperate to press it than now!

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Edited by White Cobra
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((Credit goes to @Bleuception for the brilliant product list partially referenced below)).

 

Emily Chang’s head felt like it was about to explode.

After the expedition to infiltrate Chang Industries HQ, she had spent 14 hours straight going through documents, and when she had finally closed her eyes and tried to get a little sleep, the nightmares had returned with a vengeance.

The Lady of Allure had done what she could to help, but this line of black magic was something she didn’t have any experience with and even the Siamese sorceress was beginning to look seriously affected by the many hours of intense research that was allowing her almost as little sleep as Emily was getting herself.

Now, with dark shadows under the eyes, Emily was back looking through photographed documents. This was the third time she was going through them, with ever increasing desperation to find something that could give her a clue to where Jessica might be.

A bank statement caught her tired eye. Hotel payment in Loei matching TG plane tickets and other expenses. Emily rubbed her eyes and tried to remember. Hadn’t there been…? Yes! There it was! A similar group of expenses 3 months earlier. And another 2 months before that. Something was happening in Loei. It was about as far away in Thailand as you could get, and there had to be a reason for William going there repeatedly. This could be the break she had been waiting for all these years! If only she hadn’t been so tired.

“I may have something!”

The Lady of Allure walked up to Emily just at that moment. She looked almost as exhausted and pale as Emily felt, but there was a new glimmer of hope in her masked eyes.

“Look here! This may be just what we are looking for na kha!”

Emily studied the laptop. Somnomonger – keeping you tucked in at night. If only, Emily thought longingly as she clicked on to see what the site was offering.

Deep slumber mask…customizable dreams…and…Emily shivered…nightmares. Could the people behind this website be behind the nightmares? Or could Emily use their services to acquire some nice customized non-nightmare dreams?

She read further on. Overwrites insomnia as well as combats the effects of PTSD and similar afflictions. Restful assured. This sounded very promising. Leaving aside the recurring axe-wielding maniac killer clowns, the worst nightmares involved Jessica and there was definitely PTSD or similar involved there. DISCLAIMER: This product may not work when dealing with magical afflictions and/or curses. Oh no – was this Emily’s hope shattered?

Emily bit her lip and read on. Self-tucking bedsheets, morphing pillows, dream/nightmare watchers. This was literally the stuff of dreams for her. If only it wouldn’t turn out to be just a scam. The products and services seemed very affordable, almost incredibly so, so if it was a scam, they would certainly be aiming at considerable volume to make it as profitable as other comparable criminal endeavors.

Emily found a link to “About”. Leylathiriel it said. A Sloth Demon. MAGI certified products. If this was a scam, it was certainly well done. And there was an email address for more custom questions or orders. It was probably safe to assume that Emily’s problem might require a more bespoke solution.

Emily formed her hands in a waai and closed her eyes. Please, please, please, she prayed, let Somnomonger have something that could help with the nightmare spell and stop Emily from going crazy.

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Edited by White Cobra
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Emily Chang stepped inside the City Hall, grateful that Leylathiriel from Somnomonger had been able to see her on such short notice. In equal measures excited, nervous and desperate, she proceeded towards the agreed rendezvous point at the MAGI office.

Emily Chang looked around the MAGI office and approached the woman behind the counter. “Um...hello?”

The woman looked up from her book, peering over Emily. "Good morning. Anything I can do for you?"

Emily smiled. "Hi...My name is Emily....I have an appointment with a Ms.....um...Leylathiriel?" She hoped she pronounced it correctly.

The woman nodded her head. "That would be me. Good to meet you face to face, miss Emily." She stepped around the desk and extended her hand for a handshake.

Emily smiled and returned the handshake. “Thank you so much for meeting me. I was getting a bit desperate…”

"Understandably so. Matters of nightmares are often an ill-explored side of mysticism, all things considered. Would you like to have a seat?" Leyla nodded to her and gestured towards the nearby chair.

“Thank you, that would be great.” Emily circled around the desk and sat down, shifting her legs nervously once seated.

Leyla stayed upright, and said; "Now, let's get right into it. Can you tell me more about this situation you've been faced with?"

“Yes...of course...uh...I've been having these terrible nightmares for the past two weeks. My... uh... friend thinks it may be a spell... Black magic of some sorts. I know about your product’s disclaimer... But I am so hoping you might be able to help. What...uh...would you like to know?”

Leylathiriel listened and nodded her head a few times. She rubbed her chin and offered a lopsided smirk. "The disclaimers are... A bit of a case-by-case basis, but I'm generally able to do much more in person than my products can. That being said, chronic nightmares for weeks at a time do sound quite demanding." She picked up a clipboard and pen from the desk. "Have there been any recurring themes in your nightmares?"

Emily nodded and bit her lip. “There have... uh... clowns, but I don't think they are too important... My... um... ex-husband and my... daughter, Jessica... My daughter is... a difficult subject na kha... She is... gone... My...ex-husband says it's my subconscious mind telling me to go back to him. Do you think that could be the answer?

Leyla wrote along while she spoke. "Generally speaking, dreams and nightmares aren't always quite so literal. Though, then again, some exes are the very possessive sort." She tilted her head lightly to the side. "You say that the clowns aren't very important. How so?"

Emily Chang nodded and bit her lip again before answering "It's just - I don't think I'm a coulrophobe. But they are axe-wielding and always have me at a disadvantage na kha.”

Leylathiriel hummed pensively, writing down another note. "Interesting. Evil clowns are a bit of staple in horror fiction given how common of a phobia it is. It seems oddly specific for an axe-wielding clown to appear in your nightmares despite you not being afraid of them under normal circumstances." She glanced up from her clipboard, adding; "Finding patterns like these can be revelatory to the presence of a spell. Especially when they don't know their victim personally, spellcasters wanting to harm somebody through nightmares might just attempt various phobias, one by one, until something works especially well on their target. Can you remember any other such patterns?"

Emily gulped.  “They are all about me in some kind of powerless situation, I guess... Sometimes William - my ex-husband, can save me, but he doesn't really do so, he makes it worse. And then I keep seeing my daughter, but I can never quite get to her.”

Leylathiriel glanced at her clipboard for a moment, pondering in quiet. Then, after a moment; "Family member, past relationship... Could be meant to be emotional torture." She jotted down another note. "Yeeeeah, unfortunately, it does appear your situation follows a textbook example of a mental assault via nightmares. If you'll allow me to place my hands on your head, I will see if I can sever the connection -- and with luck -- trace the thread back to whoever cast this spell."

Emily shifted position nervously and bit her lip again “Y-yes of course...thank you.”

Leylathiriel placed her clipboard down. "Alright, good. Lean back into the chair if you would and close your eyes."

Emily gulped, leaned back, and closed her eyes

Leylathiriel reached her hands to the sides of Emily's head, and gently pressed her fingertips on the sides of her head. It was a very light and soft touch. She closed her own eyes and began to focus... and, would enter Emily's mind, searching for the spell.

Emily gasped, then relaxed and allowed the procedure to take its course.

Leylathiriel took her time, but even if she did, Emily could feel the foreign mental presence moving within her own mind, searching for the spell. However, Leyla didn't stop to read her mind. She left her private thoughts alone, driven to a singular purpose. And, when she found the nightmare-inflicting spell affecting her, went to cut it like a piece of rope. It almost felt like something had been painlessly pulled out from Emily. When Leyla pulled her hands away, she was now holding an inky, oozing ball of tangled threads. "--How do you feel, miss Emily?"

Emily gasped again. “That was...I feel...good, relaxed. Relieved somehow.” She wiped her eye.

"Splendid. That's what I was hoping to hear. Unless the spell is cast again, you shouldn't have nightmares anymore." Leyla stepped towards the desk, and placed the captured spell within a wooden, runed box, which she then locked.

“I... I don't know how I can ever thank you. I think you have saved my life na kha.” Emily wiped her eyes again.

Leylathiriel turned to Emily; she smiled briefly. "Eh, it's quite alright." She patted the box on the desk. "That being said... This does confirm somebody did cast a spell on you, without a single doubt. And whoever did so, intentionally crafted these nightmares..." She added, after a pause. "I would be wary of your ex-husband. Trying to draw you back to him might've been part of the intention of this."

Emily sighed "I wouldn't be surprised - he is, as you said, very possessive and controlling... I still can't believe I can actually get my life back and go to sleep again!” Emily smiled.

"Happy to have been able to help. On the plus side, might be able to track down who did this to you, too. It's the sort of thing MAGI would investigate, so I'm sure they'll want the details as well. If that becomes the case, would you be willing to testify?"

“Yes... Of course... And if there is anything else I can ever do to help, please know I will always be there. I think it may be connected to an East Asian gang na kha, just so you know.”

"Superb. I'll contact you via e-mail should the situation evolve. Though... Is that so?"

“Thank you, and yes... There are rumors of a gang called Ngo Damh experimenting with black magic in the North of Muang Th-… of uh Thailand. I can prepare a file of what I know for you if that would be useful?”

Leylathiriel hummed thoughtfully, then nodded her head. "Please do, that would be very helpful."

“And thank you again... Also... I think you should charge much more for your products and services.”

Leylathiriel couldn't help but laugh, and she grinned at Emily afterwards. "I appreciate the sentiment, but I'd like to think magic of convenience should remain affordable. Comfort is important, after all."

“That's very noble, just as long as you know how valuable help it is.” Emily smiled, and searched her clutch, retrieving a credit card. “Do you take card?”

"Oh, I realize it does help quite a few. War veterans are some of my best customers." She nodded to Emily and gestured to the card reader resting on the desk. "Yep, that'll do just fine."

Emily Chang smiled and ran her card through the machine. “Thank you again - I can't say that enough, it has been a great pleasure.”

 "I hope you'll have wonderful dreams, Miss Emily." She smiles kindly and nodded once.

Emily formed her hands in a waai. “Sawatdii khâ.”

 Feeling so much lighter and better than she had done for as long as she could remember, Emily hurried back home. Now she was going to get some much needed, nightmare-free sleep.

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Edited by White Cobra
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    Sabrehawk landed silently. Reached up and slid the ceiling panel back into place. 

 

     The sign on the polished oak door ahead said Takuma Nakayima. She scanned the lock then took her hardlight multitool from her belt and pressed it against the keyslot. Data flowed from her mask's suite of physical penetration tools to the chip in the multitool. Hardlight snapped into the exact shape of the key, derived from her multispectrum EM scan of the lock. 

 

     It opened silently and the killer walked in. She closed it behind her. It locked with a click.

 

     Takuma Nakayima set at his desk. He looked up, eyes widening at the interruption. Then, as he saw her skin tight body armor his expression changed from shock to a sneer. His eyes slithered across her athletic six foot frame. Her eyes watched the HUD inside her mask. 

 

    Facial recognition -- Identity confirmed -- Nakayima, Takuma.

 

    "How can I he-"

 

    She drew a gun. His eyes flicked from the gun to the red Arachnos symbol on her chest. He swallowed.

 

    It was a FK Brno. Solid black with red grips to match her costume. An infrared laser sight and loaded with 7.5 FK hollow points. 

 

    The red eyes in her skull mask swept about the room. Takuma recovered some of his nerve.

 

    "Is there some-"

 

    Bang.

 

    A gunshot was the loudest sound a person was ever likely to hear. A .22 rifle was about 140 decibels. A 9mm handgun was around 160. The 7.5 FK was closer to two hundred. In the tight quarters of Takuma's office it was deafening.

 

    Papers leapt off his desk and the shockwave slapped hitherto unnoticed dust into the air. The scent of burned cordite filled the room.

 

    A bronze medal on the wall perished as the 7.5 FK punched through the center of it, crumbling the thick bronze around it as if it were tin foil.

 

    Takuma jerked so hard his reading glasses tumbled off one ear. He pawed at them with shaking hands.

 

    "You know Takuma, Arachnos has been hearing rumors lately. Something about a marriage? A Takuma Nakayima and a Rei Mizuni." 

 

    Sabrehawk walked over to his desk and set down on the corner. Her cybernetic arm rested on her knee. Takuma watched smoke rise from the barrel with eyes the size of saucers.

 

    "Ah love. What a beautiful emotion. It just-" She rested her left hand, the living one, on her heart. Atop the Arachnos symbol. "-pulls you doesn't it? You and your mother both. Why, the two of you just find yourself irresistibly attracted to CEOs. It must run in the family because you both have the same type. Rich." 

 

    Takuma opened his mouth. The gun twitched. He closed his mouth.

 

    "How romantic."

 

    He glared daggers.

 

    She blew his laptop screen across the wall. Shards of glass and plastic stuck into the sheetrock.

 

    He let out a little screech. It wasn't exactly a manly sound. Threw his palms over his ears and doubled over in pain.

 

    "Never let it be said Sabrehawk would stand in the way of true love. Arachnos on the other hand.. well they're not the sentimental type. You see Takuma, Arachnos has plans for Mizuni and her corporate empire. Plans that don't include you."

 

    Takuma opened his mouth. Sabrehawk fired straight down through the desk. Shards of wood bounced across the floor as the 7.5 FK round turned one of the legs of the desk into splinters. That corner of the desk fell; hit the ground with a thud. Sabrehawk bounced with the impact, relaxed like a slumbering cat.

 

    His lip quivered.

 

    She laughed at him.

 

    "Don't look so sad Romeo. I'm sure there are other eligible bachelorettes out there with sizable bank accounts. You'll just have to fall madly in love with one of them. Otherwise-" She shrugged. "-I'll be paying you another visit."

 

    She reached up and placed her hand on the teleporter controls on her chest. Her playful tone vanished. "Arachnos won't warn you twice. If I come back I'll decorate the wall with your brains."

 

    And with that she tapped the teleporter controls on her chest and vanished in a flash of light, leaving Takuma alone in an empty office.

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Rei Mizuni was relaxing at her country mansion, enjoying a rare break between teleconferences with a glass of cherry lemonade.

Flipping through a business magazine she came across a wedding planner advert and gulped. Just then Mouse walked in, informing her that Takuma Nakayima was at the door.

Rei would rather have spent the break having quadruple unanesthetized root canal treatment, but nonetheless, social etiquette required her to admit the unwelcome visitor to her presence.

Moments later, the Eurasian playboy stood before her, for once shifting his feet uneasily and looking slightly less insufferably cocky than Rei remembered.

“Nakayima-san, this is most unexpected surprise,” she said in a voice of crystallized ice.

“Rei-chan…I’m afraid I have some very bad news…”

Even his voice sounded different. Rei eyed him suspiciously. “I see…”

Rei had never seen Takuma study his fingernails before. Had her childhood nemesis perhaps been targeted by body snatchers?

“You’d…uh…better sit down…”

Curious, Rei complied with this suggestion, crossing her legs and taking a sip of lemonade as she waited for Nakayima to continue. For once, she didn’t feel his eyeballs glued to her every curve, so something really must be off with him.

“I…uh…I can’t marry you…” Takuma paused and studied his feet.

“I see…” Rei shifted position and quickly gulped down some more lemonade in an attempt to honor her late father’s instructions never to show emotion in public.

“I have…uh…fallen in love with another woman…”

“I see…” Rei was struggling hard to contain herself. “May I ask, who?”

“Uh…Cinderella Wu…Cindy…”

“I see,” Rei shifted position again, “Well, this is most heartbreaking news obviously…”

“I know…I…would never want to hurt you…”

Rei’s eyebrows lifted. This was final confirmation about her body snatcher theory, surely. Nakayima-san seemed almost genuinely concerned about hurting her feelings. She concentrated hard on looking appropriately emotionally crushed.

“I…I understand,” she put down her glass on the table and wiped a hand across her eyes, turning her head dramatically away from him, “and…now I would like to be alone please…”

Takuma nodded uncomfortably and turned to leave.

5-4-3-2-1, Rei counted inside her head until he was finally gone. Then she jumped up from the sofa, shaking her fists in the air.

Yes, yes , yes, she thought. Whatever the mercenary Sabrehawk-sama had done it had been an overwhelming success. She would have to call Kimura-san straight away to say she would need extra cash. The mercenary had more than earned herself a healthy bonus!

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William Chang was in a foul mood.

The most recent reports from Lung Mao were far from encouraging. A few days ago, the tracker had followed Emily to some mysterious meeting at MAGI headquarters, and apparently since then, William’s ex-wife had been in much better shape.

Perhaps she had somehow come to suspect there was magic involved in the recurring nightmares, and unfortunately someone at MAGI may have been able to reverse the spell. It meant that the Witch of Mekong had exhausted her usefulness for now, but fortunately William had already devised another brilliant plan to drive Emily back into his arms; one he just needed to set in motion.

Then there had been the attempted raid on Chang Industries headquarters. By a black-clad female cat burglar and most likely another accomplice. The two guards manning the front desk had been absolutely useless, remembering nothing about the  assault, and the two other guards that had intervened only remembered the black-clad female wannabe burglar and hadn’t seen who or what had rendered them unconscious after she had been subdued. William had gone through everything and at least nothing appeared to have been stolen, there was no trace of any bugs having been placed there, and he kept no too important documents at the office.

Just as he was pouring himself another whisky, Anni Nakayima barged in, clearly in some state of agitation.

“The engagement is off!”

“Pardon?”

“Takuma called earlier. He broke off the engagement with Rei Mizuni!”

“WHAT?” William clenched his fists.

“It was for the best anyway…the way she has been passing herself around…” Anni snorted.

“Passing herself around? But isn’t she…? Anyway, this is nothing short of an unmitigated disaster!”

“Nonsense…Takuma is much too good for her!”

“You foolish woman! Don’t you see what this means for Chang Indu-…I mean for Nakayima Enterprises and us?” William downed a full glass of whisky in one gulp.

“We can do without the Mizuni resources – I’ve already set Takuma up with another influential party.” Anni gave William a conspiratory smile.

“Really?” He started pouring another glass.

“Yes, Cinderella Wu. She has already accepted my dinner invitation!”

William thought things over as he downed another whisky. Cinderella Wu. The Ivory Dragon triad. Yes, it had possibilities certainly. Perhaps Anni wasn’t all that foolish after all.

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Letter from Emily Chang to Leylathiriel at Somnomonger/MAGI:

Dear Ms. Leylathiriel

First of all, I can’t thank you enough for the amazing treatment and cure to my recent sleeping troubles. Since our session I have spent my nights absolutely free of nightmares and I feel at least 10 years younger since last you saw me already. I am forever in your debt for this and hope I may one day be in a position to repay even just the smallest installment.

Secondly, and with regrettable delay due to unforeseen circumstances (as the fortune teller said), I hereby revert with the promised hopefully relevant information pertaining to the black magic spell involved.

My friend from back home, the Lady of Allure, advised me that according to her sources, a certain Thai-based East-Asian criminal syndicate (ang yee) called Ngo Damh (roughly translatable as meaning the black serpent society) have reportedly been experimenting with black magic spells from their Northern Thailand headquarters.

Ngo Damh are a most ruthless organization based in the Northern Thailand and adjacent countries region, particularly in the areas surrounding the Mekong River. They have an expansive strategy, however, and their activities have spread first across practically all of East Asia and most recently, their presence has also been noted in the Etoiles.

When we last met, I neglected to tell you that I come from a family of costumed (and originally masked) crime-fighters operating under the name of the Lady Cobra or (in some regions) the White Cobra, and that I am the current holder of that title and responsibility after taking over the mantle from my mother. My family has a long tradition trying to curtail Ngo Damh activities and expansion, unfortunately with varying and often faltering degrees of success, and I believe it is safe to say that the organization represents something of an archenemy to the Lady Cobra institution.  If there is anything I can do to help you or MAGI provide more information about them, I am needlessly to say at your service.

More specifically on the current black magic activity my friend only has relatively limited information at this stage. We have some reason to believe that the activities may be centered around the remote Northern region of Loei and that a sorceress of local infamy and surrounded by great secrecy but operating under the name the Witch of Mekong may be involved.

I sincerely apologize for not being able to provide more useful information at this stage, but I may be planning a visit to Loei for personal reasons in the not-too-distant future, and hopefully in that process I may be able to obtain more useful leads. Please do not hesitate to let me know if there is anything specific you would like me to inquire about.

Again please accept my profound apologies for the delay in providing this information and for the feared limited usefulness of it.

If I – or my friend the Lady of Allure – can be of any assistance whatsoever, we remain at your full disposal.

Kindest regards

Emily Chang

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                It was one of those evenings. Netflix and snacks with the lights off, chocolate bars and popcorn. Another episodic installment of this odd show called “Love, Death and Robots”, a series of self-contained stories, without particular continuity between them. Punctuated every so often by the crunch of a demoness eating her snacks.

 

                She wasn’t really feeling it. She caught her thoughts wandering while she didn’t really pay attention to what was going on in the show. So when her laptop, on the coffee table, showed the icon that she received a new e-mail, she decided it was a welcomed distraction. She set down her bag of popcorn and picked up the laptop, and… Well, did as the name implied, and placed it on her lap. And it was a message from Emily Chang, the woman she’d helped recently. Fair enough. She read it. It contained profuse thanks and the information about the Ngo Damh she has proposed to share. And, sure enough, they sounded like a form of mafia, except from Thailand originally and expanding their borders. Details were sparse, but it was no surprise that this organisation would cover their tracks and remain secretive.

 

                What she didn’t expect was the admission that Emily was also a crime-fighter going by Lady Cobra, and the friend she referred to was the Lady of Allure. Undoubtedly, another costumed crime-fighter. For now, she tucked that information aside and focused on writing a reply.

 

 


Ms. Chang,

 

It’s good to read you’ve recovered.

Thank you for the information. I will share the relevant details with MAGI, as the FBSA (and by extension, MAGI itself) do also cover foreign superhuman affairs. I am not personally aware of all the details on how they operate outside the borders of the United States, if at all they do. However, I imagine they will be appreciative of being forewarned of a possible threat, especially since the Étoiles Islands are relatively close.

 

I will, of course, omit to mention your identity as Lady Cobra should that be your preference. I understand that secrecy can be a need in the world of costumed crime-fighting.

 

Regarding the Witch of Mekong; I have taken the liberty of keeping the nightmare hex which previously plagued your dreams. With it, I might be possible for me to craft a compass to lead you in the general direction of the witch – or whosoever had cast this spell on you. It may be a boon to your activities during your visit to Loei. Assuming, that is, that the witch or warlock in question hasn’t cloaked themselves in spells to confuse this method of tracking them. Please keep in mind that I will charge a considerable amount more than I did for my previous service, seeing as I would need to expend costly materials for the construction of this compass. Roughly $3,000 US.

 

Regardless of if you take me up on this offer or not, I wish you the best of luck in your investigation. Your apologies are accepted, and please think nothing of it. I understand that you must lead a busy life, now that I know you are a caped crusader.

 

Stay safe,

Leylathiriel


 

 

                This ought to do the trick. She re-reads her own reply before sending it, pondering. Anything else she should add…? Or was this an apt reply? Hm. It’s probably good, she thought. She clicks send. That being said, Sabrehawk might be interested in this. She had mentioned the Ngo Damh before, and now that she knew Emily Chang is Lady Cobra, and also entangled with matters relating to this Black Serpent Society? She had better let her know. She had already told her she had helped somebody get rid of their nightmares, but… What were the odds that both were connected? Being too inquisitive with Emily Chang’s current situation might appear suspicious, but perhaps she could insert a tracking device of Sabre’s into the compass.

 

                She decided to copy/paste the contents of the e-mails and plugged in her private communicator device to her laptop, forwarding the information to her supervillain girlfriend on a secure line. Following those e-mails, she added a single question in text format.

 

                What do you think, love?

Edited by Bleuception
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Emily Chang was in the process of booking plane tickets to Bangkok when the icon indicated she had new email. When she saw it was from Leylathiriel, she hurried to open and study the reply.

Thankfully the sloth demoness was receptive of Emily's apology and…good heavens…a magic compass that might help point her in the direction of the Witch…yes please…and again the cost was almost ridiculously low compared to the value. If it could lead her anywhere near nóong Jessica, Emily would pay anything. She hurried to type a reply:

Dear Ms. Leylathiriel

Thank you so much for your kind and forgiving reply.

A crafted compass based on the nightmare hex would be helpful to me in the extreme,  if there is even the slightest chance that the Witch may not have cloaked herself so it can help point me in the right direction. The personal matter I referred to is of the utmost importance to me, and the cost mentioned is of absolutely no concern. I would be most grateful if you could proceed with this suggestion at your earliest convenience and would happily pay any extra amount required if this could help in any way to free your schedule of other customer orders and expedite the crafting.

Thank you also for the offer to safeguard my true identity. Indeed, until a short while ago, the real name of the Lady Cobra has been guarded with the utmost secrecy by my mother, myself, and our Lady Cobra ancestors. Do you remember we discussed my controlling and possessive ex-husband and you warning me about him? Well, as part of his scheming to get back at me, he recently revealed my real name publicly in an exposé with the Bangkok Post. Consequently, and most regrettably, there is no longer much need to keep this information secret, and I have stopped wearing the customary Lady Cobra mask. But I highly appreciate your kind and considerate concern on my behalf.

Thank you again for all your help. It is greatly impacting matters of profound importance in my life, and I will anxiously await news of the compass whenever this would fit with your schedule.

Kindest regards

Emily

Emily willed herself to summon the patience to proofread the message for typos before pressing send. She then started pacing the room unable to find rest. But the die had been cast, and now all she could do was wait.

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Edited by White Cobra
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Rei Mizuni was profoundly enjoying life since she no longer had to worry about Takuma Nakayima’s advances.

She obviously didn’t rejoice at the outlook of an alliance between Nakayima Enterprises and Cinderella Wu and her Ivory Dragon triad but compared to the prospect of having to marry Nakayima-san and carry his baby, it was certainly a strategic price Rei was more than willing to pay.

Rei put the final touches to the Mizuni healthcare division clinical trial business plan for the new product codenamed for the time being “Project MizuniDyne” she had been preparing at Cobra-sama’s request. She was not quite sure she had understood all details of how this related to homeless people in Port Oakes, but the prospects were more than commercially viable, and – more importantly – if this was the key to resolving a potential conflict between her two friendly relations, the Thai Mistress of the Martial Arts and the most skilled mercenary Sabrehawk-sama, Rei would do everything in her power to make it happen.

It had been a most pleasant and productive evening for her. Prior to finalizing the business plan, Rei had enjoyed dinner with her mother, her half little-sister Sayuri, and her most beloved stepfather “Iron” Anderson Jake.

With the lack of any romantic success in Rei’s own life, it was a pleasure to see the love between her otherwise sometimes unpredictable kunoichi mother, Kumiko, and Anderson Jake. Her mother had never wanted to marry Rei’s father and become “domesticated” as Toshiro Mizuni had wanted, but with Jake, she had finally settled down, and their relation and marriage was partially down to Rei’s cunningly executed matchmaking amongst the two equally romantically reluctant parties.

Rei had seen Jake’s unique qualities from the first time they met, when he had come to her assistance against the advances of an aggressive night-club patron, and luckily Rei’s mother had been quick to see the same. And Jake had come into their lives at an opportune moment, just as Kumiko was in a rare state of distress after a fateful encounter with Cobra-sama’s ex-husband William Chang. Anderson Jake had been willing to look past that and make an honorable woman of Nagasaki Kumiko, and to become a much-needed replacement father-figure in Rei’s and Sayuri-chan’s lives.

Yes, it had been a very enjoyable day, she thought, and looked conspiratorially over her shoulder to make sure nobody was watching.

Could it be that the Avenging Angel would make an appearance that night?

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Edited by White Cobra
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William Chang was in exceptionally good mood and his complacency was having significant impact on his Armagnac collection.

But given how he had just arranged for a 1 MUSD payment in cryptocurrency it would cause only limited further harm to his finances to order another crate or two, William convinced himself and opened yet another bottle.

He had not been sure how the mercenary would take his proposal, worried even that she might have moral qualms about the assignment despite the level of remuneration being discussed.

But no, the mercenary had understood perfectly, almost guessing William’s thoughts before they were fully developed and articulated and – most importantly – she seemed to have understood how this was all for Emily’s best, so truth be told there was nothing to be morally concerned about in the first place.

It had also been very reassuring that the mercenary – a skilled and recognized martial artist herself – had understood and confirmed the psychological brilliance behind William’s plan. She had understood how much Emily’s fragile self-image depended on her martial arts abilities and recognition, and how the destruction and removal of that Lady Cobra mental safety net would enable Emily to see through the illusionary self-deception of thinking she could get by without him, and finally realize and acknowledge the only thing and place that would constitute a viable existence for her – to be reunited with her husband and back in the safe confinement of William’s arms.

He had a brief and strange sensation of actually feeling a slight hint of concern for what she was about to endure but shrugged it off almost before the impulse had partially materialized. Yes, she was going to get hurt in body and pride, but this was practically the defining example of the “end justifies the means” saying and rationale surely. A broken bone or two and a recalibrated self-understanding was a small price to pay for that, and William had no doubt she would soon be thanking him for it. Who knew, if she was quick and sincere embracing her new circumstances, he might even reward her by siring another child to comfort her for a while. Yes, this really was all for Emily’s best.

He poured himself another celebratory glass and crossed his fingers that both the mercenary and his Armagnac supplier would provide swift and satisfactory delivery.

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    An envelope arrived at the office of William Chang. It had no return address. Any forensic analysis would reveal the letter was unmarked by fingerprints and entirely free of any DNA. Inside the envelope were a silver coin with a hawk on one side and a pair of crossed saber's on the other. And a letter.

 

    The letter said the following:

 


 

Dear Mr. Chang;

 

     I have received your payment of one million US dollars worth of bitcoin. Thank you for your prompt payment. As you were so timely with your payment I felt I should reciprocate by delivering two pieces of news that may be of interest to you with all haste.

 

    Item one. I will not be executing the job on one Emily Chang and I will also be keeping your payment for this job. This news may be very upsetting. That is only natural. However I feel it is important for you to understand that I am doing this not out of malice or greed but rather out of good will and concern for you as a human being. As we spoke the other day I begin to feel you were not cut out for this business. While you may have had great success in the world of industry the world of supervillainy is quite different. And you, Mr Chang, are not at all built for the cutthroat world of costumed crime. Should you continue down this path you would likely encounter those who are not possessed of my kind spirit and generous nature. No doubt you would be badly hurt, if not worse. Therefore, out of an excess of concern for your future, I have elected to teach you a one million dollar lesson. You are welcome.

 

    Item two. Software in my mask recorded our entire meeting. Of importance here are the moments in which you requested I attack your wife and inflict substantial, but not life altering, injuries in order to dissuade her from her path as a costumed crime fighter and drive her back into your loving arms. These moments would be of great interest to her I am sure. As you still possess the address to the bitcoin wallet I gave you for your original payment I will request a ten thousand dollar per month deposit into that account. If this payment is not delivered by the end of the first day of the month (GMT) I will contact your wife and show her the video. This payment shall continue in perpetuity.

 

    You may, gripped by the emotion of the moment, perceive this as blackmail. I ask you to reconsider this view as it is not at all my intention. Think of it as a trivial payment that I have offered you the opportunity to preserve marital harmony. (And to provide a monthly reminder that the world of supervillain is not for you.) When you think about it, the real gift here was from me to you.

 

With concern and affection;

 

~Your friend, Sabrehawk


 

Edited by Sabrehawk
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”The thieving, double-crossing, good-for-nothing….”

A roar of anger erupted from William Chang’s study and yet another freshly delivered bottle of Armagnac was hurled through the air, narrowly missing Anni Nakayima’s head as it popped in.

“Really William, this has been going on for hours now…”

“But the nerve of that…ARRRGG!” Another bottle of Armagnac ended its days crashing against the wall.

“What’s all the fuss about anyway?” Anni tried to sidestep the piles of sticky bottle shards on the floor.

“Well if you must know, I had hired a mercenary to roughen up Emily a bit…to warn her to stay away from me. From us. And now they have stolen the money and refuse to carry out the assault…”

“That’s no problem. I’ll happily do it. For free!” Anni had bloody murder in her eyes.

“I wasn’t planning on death or permanent disfigurement,” William picked up another bottle, weighing it in his hands, “but I still don’t understand why the sudden change of heart…Emily must have gotten to them somehow!”

“Well we all know what that salacious little tramp is likely to have brought to the table…although why anyone would want to go anywhere near that starved, skeletal frame of hers…the vulgar, debauched little…” Anni looked like she might join in on the bottle-flinging herself.

“I don’t think that’s the answer, and Emily isn’t…”

“Oh do me a favor! Her shameless tarting about would make even the whore of Babylon blush!”

Anni apparently thought better about flinging Armagnac bottles and stormed out, slamming the door behind her so the whole mansion shook.

William decided the bottle in his hand could serve better purpose if it wasn’t smashed against the wall. He poured himself a heavy glass from it.

Alright, so he had suffered a small setback, and so what. That treacherous skull faced mercenary would get her comeuppance soon enough, and he would just have to devise another equally brilliant plan to get Emily back. He would pay the blackmail money for now, just to make the mercenary think it was safe, the amount was trivial, he spent more on alcohol and women by the hour, and he wasn’t too worried about the footage. He could always just vehemently deny and claim it had been doctored. What was that APP called, Reface? Yes that would cast more than reasonable doubt on those outrageous allegations, and William was sure there was technology to fake voices too.

In fact…a dangerous idea started to form. Could he use this offensively in a ruse to get his wife back? If she heard that someone had fabricated slanderous evidence against him in an attempt to keep him away from Emily, surely that would force her to look at him in a more sympathetic way?

The plan needed more thought and Armagnac intake obviously, but perhaps he really should thank the mercenary after all.

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Rei checked her face in the mirror as she returned home, trying to gauge what was wrong.

Was it the nose? The lips? Her hairstyle maybe? Maybe everything was just wrong.

Rei’s quest to find nightclub romance had met with limited success. Well, with no success really. In fact it had been a disaster. She had felt about as popular as a great white stalking the beaches of Amity.

At least the mercenary Sabrehawk-sama had been honest and blunt enough to advise Rei that covering her face in a mask or otherwise altering her appearance might be a conditio sine qua non to Rei attracting anything other than insult or vomit.

It was a painful truth, but a truth nonetheless, and one Rei would be wise to remember, especially with her dreaded Swiss boarding school reunion coming up in three weeks; the invitation urging everyone to bring along their plus-ones. She had no doubt Clara and Matthieu would be flaunting their power couple happiness, and Rei just couldn’t bring herself to try to hire Roberto J to play the role of pretend-boyfriend once again.

Could plastic surgery be the answer to her problems? With the amount of work required, Rei wasn’t sure the scars would heal in three weeks and where before it would have been obvious to seek advice from Anni Nakayima on the subject, it was doubtful under the circumstances whether her former self-proclaimed mother-in-law would be willing to help.

And what about her duties to produce an heir to the Mizuni empire? At her current level of self-confidence Rei felt sure that even artificial insemination bureaus and donors would have clauses in their general terms and conditions preventing their precious genetic material from being contaminated with the likes of her.

But her late father had always warned her against wasting time on self-pity, and it might be a more productive way of consoling herself buying another company or two.

-0-

After going through company presentations and drafting a few term sheets Rei definitely felt better, and she had even reconsidered her approach to the boarding school reunion. She was going to hide her pain and hold her head high for them to see. Tomorrow she was going to check what was on offer on the actor or other male escort front, and if nothing caught her fancy, she might even try to reach out to Roberto J after all, if only just to annoy Clara and Matthieu.

Reipd1c.jpg

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                It wasn’t long after that she wrote her e-mail and resumed watching her show on Netflix that she received a reply. Huh! Well, definitely points of expediency. She liked that. She picked up the remote and paused the episode. Which, as is often customary when one pauses a movie or TV show, the screen froze on a particularly amusing facial expression of a character. It drew a small smirk from her.

 

                She turned her attention to her laptop, and read her newest e-mail. So, Emily was definitely interested in her offer, as well as being willing to pay extra for making it quick. That, she would be able to do. Then, more details on her situation with her ex-husband. Honestly, given that she didn’t read news from the Bangkok Post, these were news to her. It truly began to paint an image of the kind of man this fellow was, and he wasn’t good news, to say the least. She flexed her fingers (even thought the technically didn’t need to) and began typing up a response.

 

 


Ms. Chang,

 

I am truly saddened to read about the actions of your ex-husband. As I have worked closely with MAGI and the FBSA for a few years now, and still close friendly ties with them, I understand the pain that having your trust broken in such a manner represents. Based on what you have divulged about him, I believe it is good you took the decision to stay away from him. If he feels no remorse in exposing your identity, then it’s likely that he is the kind of person to place obstacles in your path.

 

Based on the urgency of your words, I assume it would be quite important that I get to work. For an extra amount of $10,000 US, I will put this at the top of my priorities as well as offer an additional service so that the compass reaches you in time: teleporting the item to you directly. To make this possible however, I will need a picture of the location you wish to receive the compass. The picture must contain enough details so that I might be able to distinguish what kind of place it is. For instance, if you want me to teleport it within your hotel room, I will need to be able to see what the room is clearly. If in doubt, take more than one picture at different angles.

 

I will begin making it immediately, but I await your response to know whether or not I am to teleport the package to you.

 

Best of luck.

Leylathiriel


 

 

                This time, she hit send immediately after writing it. This would be good enough as-is, especially since time seemed to be at a premium in this situation. Glancing to her TV, she shook her head. Entertainment would have to wait. For the time being, she had work to do. Standing up, she got rid of her blanket and moved to her workshop downstairs. All manner of items and esoteric components lined a handful of metallic shelves, while books were sorted in an orderly manner on a wooden shelf.

 

                She took a moment to remove her pyjamas and exchange them for work clothes. An old pair of loose, patch-worked pants, as well as tank top with grease spots here and there. And that was it. After slipping her tail out from the hole in the back of her pants, she collected a crafting manual, moulds, small ingots of brass, a case of cut jewels, the captured hex previously affecting Emily, and a bunch of other things.

 

                She flipped the pages of her manual and set it on the right page, and plopped it in a book holder. Tracking compasses weren’t exactly the hardest thing to make provided that one had the right tools and resources. And as it to happened, she did. And she began the process with the framework. Picking up an ingot of brass, she went over to the basin of magma and sat down on its ledge, lowering her hand, cupped around the ingot, right into the surface of the magma. Her snow-white skin took on red hues from being under lit by the magma, but the heat… Did exactly nothing to her flesh. Her hands didn’t burn, but the brass didn’t take too long before it began liquefying right in her hands…

 

 

 

~.oOo.~

 

 

 

                With flecks slag metal still on her hands, she filled the compass with a magically reactive oil, set the ruby-tipped needle, and finally, sealed the whole thing with a plexiglass cover. The ornate, filigreed surface of the compass gave it the look of a luxury item, but in truth, these engravings had served the purpose of constructing the enchantment that now guided the needle. She wrapped the compass in a protective layer of thick red cloth, before placing it within a small cardboard box which she taped securely. A job well done.

Edited by Bleuception
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You know we're both lost in maze, you're miserable, I'm so dazed… While you go away…

Noir Desir was playing on full volume as Emily was packing suitcases, and she almost missed the email from Leylathiriel she had been holding her breath for.

Hands trembling, she read through it, her sense of thankful relief growing with every word. The demoness was prepared to expedite crafting for a more than reasonable extra fee, and the teleport option was a gift from the heavens as it would enable Emily to get on the plane to Khrung Thêp without having to worry about picking up the compass first.

Still unable to sit still and fidgeting about from nervous excitement, she hurried to compose a hopefully reasonably typo-free reply to Leylathiriel confirming her gratitude and acceptance of the expediting cost and promising to arrange for payment as soon as she had landed. She also confirmed that several garden photos of her mother’s Khao Yai residence would be forwarded without delay to enable safe teleportation as soon as she could get hold of her mother, her step-father Harald, or her half-sister Sophia to have the pictures taken and sent as per instructions.

The words about William confirmed Emily’s own feelings and suspicions about her ex-husband’s manipulating actions and motivations, but it was reassuring to have validation from another party whose opinion she had come to respect very much in just the short period of time she had been acquainted with her. But she had to put her worries about William aside for now and concentrate on the task of searching for nóong Jessica.

Emily felt shaky like before a particularly nasty law school exam. She had been hopeful and then disappointed so many times before, so no matter how promising this all looked she would need desperately to keep her emotions and hopes in check. If she allowed herself to let them roam free, she feared that another disappointment might destroy her for good.

With knees still trembling, she hurried to finish packing; her mind a turmoil of anxious hope and the fear of being crushed in despair.

LCp1.jpg

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As always the realization of landing in Bangkok only truly hit home once I set foot on the walkway taking us from the main airport building to the parking garage across the street.

 

Just a few steps away from the Suvarnabhumi air-conditioning systems, and even in the early morning, the sudden embrace of humid heat descended on me like a wet cloak, providing a suffocating welcome home. It made me half regret not following up on my original idea of changing clothes before the plane landed. By the time we reached the car, my ivory dress clung to me damply as if I had been out hiking in torrential rain. Combined with the arctic temperatures generated inside my mother’s white Mercedes by the A/C it was the perfect recipe for pneumonia, or – if I got off lucky – a nasty cold.

 

It was early Friday morning, but traffic was already heavy around Bangkok even on the toll freeway. This didn’t seem to faze my mother. She wove calmly from lane to lane, casually avoiding any hint of the many differing obstacles that Bangkok traffic was always so riddled with. I had no idea how she did it. Was it just the fortune of experience or was she gifted with some strange traffic-based premonition? For me it was always more like queuing in the supermarket. Be it a line or a lane - I always ended up in the one that didn’t move. She was even capable of multitasking; quizzing me about how the flight had been as she found the correct lane North East towards Khao Yai.

 

It was a three hour-drive from Bangkok. We had agreed that I should stay at my mother’s residence in the outskirts of the national park at first, so I could update her on my plans and hear what progress she had made at her end, and – most importantly – so I could collect the compass from Leylathiriel.

 

Another pang of nervous anticipation shot through my stomach at the thought that I might be getting closer to finding nóong Jessica. My fingers clutched the golden cobra medallion I always wore around my neck. Mother had a necklace just like it and I had bought another one for Jessica when she was born. My lovely little Jessica. Gone for so long. Now, for the first time in all those desperate years, I might have a tangible clue to how I might find her.

 

I smiled to myself despite the inner turmoil. I was overjoyed that I was going to see my half-sister Sophia and my stepfather Harald again. I missed them so much. It was the major downside of living so far away and only getting to see them all on much too rare and short occasions.

 

The closest thing I had ever heard to a curse escaped by mother’s parted lips and the car braked hard. I lurched forward pressed against the seatbelt, my eyes widened, and I reached for the dashboard in horror. The huge, unmoving back of a tourist bus came ever closer as the Mercedes shot towards it and a seemingly unavoidable crash. Then, with inches to spare, the car came to a halt. The screeching of brakes behind, worthy of a banshee’s wail, made it terrifyingly clear that the danger was not yet over. My mother’s eyes widened in horror as she looked in the rearview mirror. My chest tightened and I braced myself for an impact that never came. I turned and saw the front of a pickup truck stopped impossibly close to the rear bumper of our car. If my legs hadn’t been trembling so badly, I would have been tempted to get out and see if there was room for a sheet of paper in the space between the two vehicles. Mother’s driving clairvoyance had come to a frightening, but fortunately not fatal, end, as both freeway lanes had stopped moving completely.

 

Our heartbeats were almost back to more normal rates when traffic finally started moving again. Half a mile ahead, the source of the sudden drama was revealed. An ox had wandered onto the freeway and collided with a minibus full of tourists. Luckily, both animal and tourists looked surprisingly unscathed, which was more than could be said for the front of the van. The driver was gesticulating angrily and arguing with an old man, who feigned innocence but whom I suspected of being the owner of the freeway grazing herd.

 

Only in Thailand, I thought, as the Mercedes accelerated and left the arguing parties behind us. The road started climbing with comforting familiarity towards the mountainous landscape ahead and I knew we were getting close to my mother’s house – and hopefully nóong Jessica too.

Edited by White Cobra
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