Yunomi’s Story-Book Three

Kane looked at them appraisingly. “My brother considers he and I to be your protectors, Lady. Did you realize that?”
“Well, aren’t you? He’s my Beloved, and you’ve pulled my ass out of the fire more than once. I finished the central figure myself,” she said proudly.
“Did you now? Your magic is becoming very strong, Lady.”
Sandia changed the subject. “So what do we do first?”
“Reaper and I are going to escalate our public fights over the next few days, then you and I can start our little show. As soon as we get some interest, we’ll make a trip to Hell. I’ll come by your place and get you when it’s ready to go. You two keep a low profile until then, I don’t want anyone to recognize Kane.”
Sandia stood up to leave. “Fine, I’ll see you in a few days then.” She headed for the door, but Kane hung back.
“I’ll be along in a bit, Sandi. I need to talk to the Lady for a minute.”

Sandia nodded, and left. Yunomi looked at Kane quizzically. “Is everything all right?”
“No,” Kane admitted. “Reaper gave Sandia her freedom in exchange for her going with you, and when you’re done, she’s leaving.”
“She’s wanted her freedom for a long time. What’s the problem?”
Kane looked at his feet. “I’m not sure I want to go with her. You and Reaper are my family, I just found you. She will move far away, and hide from you.”
“That’s really how she feels? I didn’t know she hated us so much.” Yunomi was greatly saddened.
“She doesn’t hate you, Lady, but she hates my brother with all her being. Since he and I have made peace, she doesn’t feel comfortable with me anymore. She’s afraid he’ll influence me too much, manipulate me. I can’t convince her otherwise. She’s making me choose, Lady, and I don’t know what to do.”
“Kane, I’m sorry, I don’t know what to tell you. Sandia is very headstrong, and will go her own way now that she has the chance. I would miss you both if you left, but it’s your decision.” Yunomi took Kanes’ hands in her own and looked into his face. “I want you to be happy. After all you’ve been through, you deserve some peace and contentment. Do what will make you happy, Kane, and don’t let any of us influence you. You’re not responsible for our feelings, only your own.”
“Thank you, Lady, but I’m not sure what my feelings are right now. I want to be near you, but Sandia doesn’t. I love her, she’s kind to me, but things are different between us now. As long as Reaper stayed away from us, she was fine. But since I made peace with him, she is not as loving towards me.”

Yunomi was suddenly quite angry with Sandia. How dare she put Kane in this position! She opened her mouth to speak her mind, then thought better of it. Kane would have to make his own choice, and the less Yunomi influenced him, the better it would be for him. He’s a big boy, she thought, let him make up his own mind.
“Babe, you know I’m always here for you if you need to talk. And tell Sandia that, too, although I doubt she trusts me enough anymore. I do love you both, and want you both to be happy, whatever changes that brings, okay?”
“Okay.” Kane smiled, and kissed Yunomi on the forehead, then left. She listened to his footsteps descending the stairs, then turned toward the dojo.

Reaper appeared out of the darkened room, frowning. “He shouldn’t let her do that to him,” he groused.
“Oh, shut up, you’re the cause of all his troubles,” Yunomi reminded him. “Besides, that was between him and me, you weren’t supposed to hear.”
“I wasn’t supposed to hear any of what was said, remember? You thought it best if I not show myself.”
“Well, you should be pleased, our plan is falling into place. Sandia will accompany me, we’ll find the Thirteen, then you and Kane can come in and help us clean house.”
Reaper stroked Yunomi’s cheek. “This will be very dangerous for you, Beloved, you could find yourself in a lot of trouble. If something goes wrong...”
“I am the Storm Child, I will prevail. It is written.” Her eyes smoldered with an intensity Reaper had not seen before. He took a step back and regarded her. Perhaps he was mistaken in his belief that he could control her.

True to her word, the fights between Reaper and Yunomi apparently escalated. Bob and Laura were let in on it, so they wouldn’t be too alarmed. They were the only other ones who knew Yunomi’s real identity anyway. Word spread that the Dark Lord was having trouble with his new woman. Rumor had it that he was still in mourning over Yunomi’s death, and this person was not living up to his expectations. There were screaming matches, and things thrown, and names called. After a while, Reaper was being seen alone, and his woman was elsewhere in the company of his minion. Yunomi took the name Steele, and she cut a wide swath through the bars of the City with Sandia in tow. One night they were at the Reverend’s, partying hard. Sandia was sitting on Steele’s lap with her arms around her neck, both of them flirting outrageously with a pair of handsome Vampires. The women had been under the watchful eyes of a Gremlin for some time, and he had reported their escapades to his master in Hell. Reaper stalked into the club, and headed straight for the women. “Outside, now!” he rumbled, grabbing Steele hard by one arm, yanking her to her feet and dumping Sandia on the floor. He escorted her out the back door, into the alley, Sandia close behind, cursing him vehemently.

Once outside, Reaper flung Steele to the ground. Sandia ran to her, and crouched over her protectively. “Whores! Sluts! I gave you everything, and this is how you repay me!” he roared. “Vile wretches, I cast you into Hell!” A vortex opened, and the two women were sucked into it, hurling curses at the Dark Lord as they fell.

The Gremlin hovered in the darkened doorway, watching the scene unfold. This was too interesting. The Dark Lord casting his whore and his minion into Hell! He certainly was in an ugly mood since his first whore’s death. The Gremlin scuttled off to report this latest development. Kane saw the creature’s departure, and stepped out of the shadows. “I think you enjoyed that, brother,” he observed dryly.
“Yes, I rather did,” Reaper laughed darkly. “It’s just payback for all the grief they’ve given me over the years.”
Kane frowned. He still didn’t quite trust his brother, and sometimes Reaper’s dark sense of humor escaped him. “So what do we do now?”
“We wait,” Reaper told him. “They’ll let us know when they find the Thirteen. Come on, let’s go over to el Camino and have a beer.” He turned and headed off down the alley, Kane walking beside him.

Part III: Welcome To My Nightmare

“Ow! Damn him, did he have to cast us so hard?” Sandia was angrily rubbing her butt. Yunomi was lying on her back, trying to laugh, but the wind was knocked out of her. “Nomi, are you okay?” Sandia offered a hand, and helped her to her feet.
“Steele, my name’s Steele. I think I’ll be all right.” Catching her breath, Steele began to laugh at last. “That son-of-a-bitch! He enjoyed that!”
“How do you know?” Sandia looked at her dubiously.
“Our Union. I feel a lot of what he does. We think alike, you know.”
“I know. It scares the Hell out of me. Speaking of which, where in Hell are we, exactly?”
Steele looked around. “Near Carnivean’s capital. I can’t pronounce the name right. It should be just over that rise.”

Sandia got her bearings. She had been in Hell several times before, and knew the cities better. This was only the second time for Yunomi/Steele, and she had been in the Wastelands the first time. “Yeah, I know where we are now, you’re right. It’s over there. Wait, I have something for you.” Sandia reached down into the top of her boot, and pulled out an object wrapped in soft leather. She handed it to Steele. “Kane made it for you, he was worried about you being without your sword.”

Steele unwrapped a dagger, a steel blade with a bronze handle in the form of a raven. She had often admired the dagger Kane had made for Sandia, and this one was beautiful. “Oh, Sandi, it’s great! But why didn’t he give it to me himself?”
“You know him, he’s shy. He didn’t want a big scene, or for Reaper to know. C’mon, let’s go get some beer.” Sandia took off for the low ridge. Before long, the women were settled in a Hellish tavern, drinking the strange brew that passed for beer in Hell. Steele was playing with her new dagger. It was a perfect length to hide in her boot, with a good balance for throwing. The handle was a work of art, the raven’s tail flaring out slightly to form the guard, the body deeply carved with detailed feathers for a good grip, and the raven’s head forming the pommel.
A Demon approached the women’s table. “We don’t like Darksiders over here,” he growled.
They both looked up at him. “So? We don’t like Demons too much,” Steele snarled back.
“Then you have no business in Hell, do you, sluts? Get back to Dark Side where you belong.”
“It’s not that easy,” Sandia muttered. “The Dark Lord cast us out.”
Steele shot her a look. “That’s our business, Sandi, not his,” she whispered.
“Cast you out?” the Demon laughed. “For what? Not swallowing?” He roared with laughter at his own crass joke.
Steele stood up, fingering her dagger dangerously. “Don’t comment on things you know nothing about,” she said in a low, menacing voice.
The Demon hissed at her. Sandia put a hand on her arm. “Steele, back off. We have to live here now, let’s not start anything.”
Steele shrugged off Sandia’s hand. “So, Demon, ya wanna go for it? You think you can take me?”
The Demon took a step back. This woman was so fierce, so sure of herself. Why had the Dark Lord cast her out? “Who are you?” he asked.
“I’m Steele, that’s all you need to know. Now, are we going for it, or not?”
“No, not now. I need to know who I’m facing.” With that, he turned and left the bar.
“Huh. A cowardly Demon.” Steele sat back down, and took a long drink of beer. The women continued to drink in silence, the other Hell Spawn in the bar watching them carefully. After a while, a tall, lanky Demon with an amazingly ugly face came in and walked straight to their table.
“Hello, Sandia, who’s your friend?” he asked, pulling up a chair.
“Huena. I knew you’d find me, but not this fast. What do you want?” Sandia was wary.
“To know what’s going on. I heard your Lord cast you out. What happened?”
“Sandi, who is this guy? Don’t tell him anything!” Steele was adamant.
“This is Huena, Carnivean’s second. He could help us, Steele.” She looked at Huena hopefully. “Reaper caught us stepping out on him. Steele is, uh, was his companion, but they didn’t get along too well.”

Huena studied Steele carefully. He saw a tall, athletic woman with longish red-gold hair, a scarred lip, and dark gray eyes. She was dressed in a long sleeved gray shirt and black jeans, with an animal tooth of some kind hanging from a steel loop through the middle of her right ear. There was something familiar about her, but he couldn’t quite place it. “So you’re the one who replaced Reaper’s whore. We’ve been wondering who you are. Weren’t too happy with him, eh?”
“That a**hole! All he wanted to do was run my life. He couldn’t get that dead bitch off his mind, either. I was never good enough, not like her. F*ck it!” Steele returned to her beer, sullenly drinking.
“Well...” Huena was thoughtful. “This is very interesting, Sandia. You’ve been with Reaper a long time, and were friends with uh, Yunomi, was it? I never thought I’d see you down here permanently.”
“Things change, Huena. I never thought I’d need your help. But Steele and I are stuck here, and we could use a friend of your caliber.”
“You flatter me, Sandia, that’s not like you. Things have changed.” He turned his attention to Steele. “So, you didn’t live up to the Dark Lord’s expectations, eh? Well, Yunomi was a hard act to follow. I understand he loved her very much. But you have talents of your own, don’t you? Perhaps you could come to work for me.”
“As what?” Steele stared at the Demon over the top of her beer.
“As a minion, perhaps. We’ll see. Sandia, I make the same offer to you. I’m well aware of your talents, and can use them. Think about it, and let me know. Where are you staying?”
“We just got here. We haven’t really thought about it yet.”
“I have a house here I seldom use. You’re welcome to stay there until you’re more settled. Come with me, I’ll show it to you.”

The women looked at each other dubiously, but then shrugged. They didn’t have much choice. Huena led them through the streets of the city, to a small house near Carnivean’s palace. Steele had never been in a Hellish town before, and stared in amazement at the sights. It was like a Bosch painting, all sorts of strangeness and perversity going on. It wasn’t like the Dark Side at all. There were more souls here, more odd monsters. The smell was horrendous, sulfur and industrial waste.

Huena’s house was on a street of the Medieval style, crowded and dirty. It was a small two story, smashed in between others like it. Once inside, it proved to be little better, decorated with bones and Human skulls. But it was fairly clean, and the upstairs bedroom was quiet and plain. Thanking their host, the women settled in to sleep for a while. Steele was able to draw strength from Hell, thanks to Kane’s arm band and Reaper’s tattoos. She stripped off her shirt and jeans, and flopped on the bed. “Well, this is nice.”

Sandia signaled to her that they were being observed, and surreptitiously rolled her eyes in the direction of a small Gargoyle perched in the rafters. Steele regretted that she had never established a mind link with Sandia. They were so compatible in their fighting styles and thought processes, they had never thought it necessary. But the signals they gave each other were subtle and obscure, so they were still able to communicate secretly. “We’ll be all right here, Steele, under Huena’s protection. He’s always had sort of a crush on me, and I think he’ll be very helpful.”
“Whatever. I’m just happy to be away from that asshole Reaper. Come lie down, girl, we need some sleep.” Steele patted the bed next to her. Sandia smiled ruefully and joined her. They were soon sleeping, Steele against Sandia’s back with one arm flung over her.

Huena stared into a crystal ball, seeing what his Gargoyle saw. “Well!” he muttered. “Those naughty girls! No wonder Reaper cast them out. That Steele seems awfully familiar, though. I better check in with Carnivean about this.”

“What? The Dark Lord has cast out his whore AND his minion!?” Carnivean was astounded at the news. “Who is this whore, why was she cast out? And Sandia, after all these years? Tell me, Huena.”
“I think he caught them together, if you know what I mean. They’re very affectionate with one another. Steele is the whore’s name, and she has an attitude.”
“But Sandia was seen in the company of Kane, or someone who might be him. What did she say about that?”
“It didn’t come up. She seems completely taken with this Steele woman. Perhaps the Dark Lord gave Sandia to Kane as a companion. That would explain a lot of her anger.”
“You said you had an image globe of them. Show me.”
Huena produced the crystal ball, showing Steele and Sandia in his house. Carnivean stared at it intently. “Yunomi,” he breathed.
“What?” Huena was startled.
“It’s the Storm Child. I’d recognize her anywhere. Now the question is, has she really been cast out, or is this one of the Dark Lord’s plots? Stay close to them, find out as much as you can. Don’t let on that you know who she is. Report everything to me.” Carnivean rubbed his fat hands together. “I’ve got her now, and she won’t escape me this time. I just need to know Reaper’s involvement in this before I extract my vengeance.”

Sandia and Steele awoke late the next day. As they were dressing, there was a tap on the door. “Ladies? Are you up?” Huena called.
“We’ll be right down,” Sandia replied. They met Huena downstairs. “So, what’s up?” Sandia asked.
“I informed Lord Carnivean of your situation, and he has taken an interest. He would especially like to meet you, Steele, but he needs more details of your falling out with the Dark Lord. He must be careful, you realize. Since the first whore’s death, Reaper has been very quiet. Carnivean would like some information before he meets with you, a show of good faith, so to speak.”
“Sure, whatever. What does he want to know?”
“What were the circumstances of you being cast out? One of our spies witnessed it, but was unclear of the cause.”
“I left him. I got sick of his shit, and went off on my own. Sandia hates him for killing Yunomi, and she came with me.”
“What? For killing Yunomi? But she died here in Hell!” Huena was confused.
“He sent her to die, her and Kane,” Sandia put in. “He knew they weren’t coming back, he wanted them gone from Dark Side.”
“So that wasn’t Kane our spies saw you with, Sandia? Who was it?”
“Some big Human he had me training as a minion. He felt I would leave him soon, and was making me train my replacement.”
“Well, this is all very interesting. Why did Reaper want Yunomi to die? It’s said he loved her.”
“He did. But she tried to reconcile him with Kane, and he accused her of betraying him. There is no trust in him.”
Steele sat silently through this exchange, looking bored. “Hey, look, he cast us out cause he’s a control freak, okay?” she finally said. “He couldn’t stand that we went our own way. I’m happy to be rid of him, even if I am in Hell.”
Huena seemed satisfied. “All right, I’ll talk to Carnivean again. He’ll have more questions for you, I’m sure. Try not to get killed right off, and I’ll check in with you later.”

The women returned to the bar where Huena had found them, and spent the afternoon drinking and fending off curious Demons. Steele had to kill a couple of them, and the women were given more privacy after that. Sandia could tell that her friend was getting restless and impatient, and it worried her. Steele was likely to do something rash if things didn’t move along more quickly. At dusk, they still had not heard from Huena, and Steele was irritated. “Let’s go for a walk. I want to see Carnivean’s palace.” She rose abruptly and headed out into the street, Sandia hurrying to catch up with her.

They reached the palace, and lurked in the shadows outside, watching. Demons and Fiends were arriving, with their attendants. Something big was going on. “I bet we can get inside,” Steele giggled, eyeing the palace walls.
“Steele, no. Wait for Huena to contact us. It’s too dangerous to try this on our own.”

But Steele had already assumed her Ninja aspect, and was slipping through the shadows toward the palace. Sandia sighed, and followed cautiously. They reached a servant’s entrance, and slipped inside unnoticed. The palace was a maze of dark and confusing rooms. Steele followed the sound of the gathering, twisting and turning through the luridly painted corridors. At last they came to the source of the sounds, a great meeting hall filled with the guests and their servants. The hall opened onto a huge courtyard with a blazing fire pit; more Demons had gathered around the fire. Steele and Sandia hid in the shadows of an entry hall, unseen by the mass of Demons. Carnivean sat on a gaudy throne, high on a dais, with six lesser seats aligned to each side of him, and a smaller throne on his left. Huena arrived and took his place at Carnivean’s left side.

Steele and Sandia remained concealed in the shadows of the side hall, watching the proceedings. One by one, the guests took their seats on either side of Carnivean, their servants aligning behind them. A few other Demons milled around in the hall. “The Thirteen!” Steele whispered. “Go get Reaper and Kane, I’ll distract them,” she insisted.

Sandia shook her head. “We know the way in now, let’s get out and they can come later.” But Steele had already shed her Ninja aspect and was stepping out into the main hall. She strode boldly up to Carnivean’s throne. Sandia cursed and withdrew into the shadows.
“Lord Carnivean!” Steele shouted.
Carnivean looked up and smiled greasily. “Welcome, Storm Child. I wondered when you would make your presence known.”
“You recognize me?” Steele was taken aback.
“How could I not? I knew what you were when the Dark Lord brought you over. The Storm Child, the woman who will bring strength to the Dark Side, and companionship to the Lord of Darkness. I thought I had you, and tried to prevent you from achieving your full potential, but here you are, alive and well. Has your Lord really cast you out, or is this all a clever ruse? It doesn’t matter, you are in my hands again, and will not escape this time. Search her, find her weapons!”

Demons moved to grab Steele, and she fought hard, but was quickly overpowered. They held her down and stripped her, not being gentle in their search. They came up with her dagger, and presented it to Carnivean. He studied the weapon closely.
“I see Kane’s craftsmanship has improved. So he lives, too? Where is the Fire Lord, my dear?”
Steele glared at the Demon Lord silently.
“So protective! He’ll come for you, even if the Dark Lord won’t. He left my service because of you, and you’ll be my bait to draw him back. In the meantime, you can provide the entertainment for my little gathering.”
Carnivean motioned to a Demon and gave an order, as a long chain descended from the ceiling near his throne.

Sandia arrived back on the Dark Side, and hurried to el Camino. Reaper and Kane were there, chatting with Laura at Reaper’s table. Kane stood up when he saw Sandia, but Reaper continued drinking, unconcerned. “Carnivean has Yunomi, he knows who she is,” Sandia said breathlessly.
Reaper looked up. “Sit down, Sandia, have a beer. Tell me what happened.”
“We have to go get her, Reaper!” Sandia was adamant, and Kane moved beside her to back her up.
“She’ll be fine for a while. Describe the situation.” He motioned for Sandia and Kane to sit down. Kane was clearly unhappy; he wanted to rush to Yunomi’s aid, but Reaper seemed unconcerned.

Sandia sighed and sat down as Laura brought her a beer. She began giving details of the palace, and naming the Demons she had seen. Reaper nodded thoughtfully. He seemed to be in no hurry, asking many questions and sipping his beer. Kane was getting extremely restless, fidgeting in his chair. “Good, the entire Thirteen are there,” Reaper finally said. “They probably won’t expect us tonight, Kane. Sandia, can you lead us to the meeting place?” She nodded in assent. “Let’s go get Yunomi’s katana, and crash their little party, then.”

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