The next day was a bit of a strain for Jon. As it turned out, his body disagreed with the angle he slept, somewhere between upright and leaning on his side. So paranoid about Scryer's return that he ended up sleeping in a state he didn't mean to, trying to keep himself as alert as he could, before a hazy mind gave way to light sleep, and then the heavy sleep his body had wanted all day since arrived in the UK.
Hiding the fact that he was hurting gently among his co-workers wasn't as effective as he'd hoped it would be. A few eyebrows raised at his occasional wincing of lifting walls to arrange as cubicles. Though it was a refreshing change of pace from boring memos, eyes strained from being fixed on screens, and working just short of carpel tunnel syndrome, the delegation of becoming free labor of building an office, paid or not, took its toll early. It made sense for there workplace back in the US since it was their start-up, but the pride from maintaining their own office wasn't present. Most hadn't seen a day's worth of physical exertion since their own office years ago. And worse yet, Jon Task, their symbol of strength and determination for getting the job done the first time, who'd volunteered to do it all over again, seemed less determined as he took it slower than he wanted to, fighting minor aches in his back, and distractions.
From the moment he stepped in the building, he swore he'd caught the occasional flash of red hair. Out of the corner of his eye, she'd be walking by, in and out of the room. In a blind spot, it'd feel as if he could turn his head and come face-to-face with her, leaving him scared to look anywhere but in front of him. All the faint catches of her around the constructed space gave him the impression that she'd infiltrated his place of work to toy with him, maybe. Instead of the witchy get-up, an image of a business-disguised Scryer came to mind, walking around, inspecting with a clipboard in her hand, checking off names and tasks as if she was really doing work, or making a checklist for who or what she would toy with. Detest surged in his mind because he really couldn't tell if it was only his mind playing tricks on him, or he had help. Assuming she was really there, showing herself, as much as he really didn't want to engage her, he would have to before she turned her attention toward others.
He thought the mental tricks were getting worse as he caught an additional flash of blonde hair tied into a ponytail, Psiana's signature look as he remembered it. Hers was more frequent, much more interactive as he swore her form was literally talking to people. He almost dropped one of the walls on his foot as Psiana's form looked right at him, knowingly, until someone called out "Jesse," to which she responded and walked over. Jon tried to keep his eyes from going wide as he realized she was actually there. It unnerved him to think of how she'd used her powers to encroach on his alter ego, heroine or not, using her own alter ego or not.
"I guess the work is even getting to the managers," Mark, probably Jon's best friend at the office spoke at his side.
"What?" Jon turned his head.
"You and Jesse; that look you two gave each other. Looked like you two were in on something; planning a mutiny, are we?"
Jon outwardly shook his head, knowing Mark loved to poke fun at the idea of a less-than-exemplary manager Jon. Inwardly, he frowned at how Psiana was imprinting into everyone the idea that she not only belonged among his co-workers, but that they all worked under her. Smart, yet overkill, depending on what she was planning to do, which Jon hoped was very little. If Bevy would run into her, Jon hoped his boss would only see her as another manager and not the CEO or anything.
"Ok, no mutiny. My next guess is rendezvous."
"Tell me you mean 'business meeting,' like coordinating when the PCs are supposed to arrive."
"Sure, if that's what the kids are calling trysts these days. Yeah. But I'm not sure there's much need to meet on how on how to motivate the team on how to put the walls up faster, or for getting the memo out on how to screw things in properly."
Mark' face lit up with the pun he almost missed, leaving Jon with the need to quickly dispel it.
"Trust me, man. You'd have a better chance," is what he almost said, a desperate gambit in getting Mark off his back for fear of office politics, and a greater fear of perpetuating the idea of "Jon and Jesse," or "Striker and Psiana" where Scryer could show her face. Were it not for Mark's womanizing, or "woman appreciating" as he called it, he would've settled for that, but Jon took a breath came up with as diplomatic a statement as he could.
"If you start improving yourself on the work level, maybe you'll learn what we managers really deal with. Same work as you plus more, for maybe better pay," Jon said while lifting a wall, trying to set an example while he talked.
"Jon?" A female voice directed his attention away from Mark. Jesse stood a few feet away, wiping sweat from her brow.
"I'll leave you managers to it then," Mark walked away with a smile on his face.
"Hey....Jesse," he said before lowering his voice to an angry whisper, "what the hell are you doing here?"
"Just seeing if things are as hard for you in our line of work," she said, making Jon want to facepalm for her conspicuous wording. "We need to talk soon," she spoke quieter than Jon's whisper, but heard loud and clear in Jon's head.
"Yeah, they're pretty hard for me. Will be even harder if I don't keep at it," Jon faked a smile, brushing her off to resume his work.
She walked away to continue more of her "work," leaving Jon alone.
Out-of-sight of anyone else, he banged his head gently against a wall in his grasp, hoping his day wouldn't be anymore trying.
Jon found a small, quaint restaurant for lunch. He ordered a shepherds pie and sat by himself with some work documents, trying to keep his mind focused on work and the investigation he had planned later that day. He shifted in his seat, parts of him feeling sore for having slept on a bathroom floor, the pain reminding him of the comfort that almost happened, and whom he would've shared it with.
"Wow, small world!"
Jon didn't bother looking up at his "fellow manager," the hope of having lunch alone dashed. He kept his cool as she took a seat without being offered one.
"Funny how you run into the same people lately, isn't it?" Jesse spoke like an old friend. "Hi, what's good here?" She asked the waiter.
"One shepherds pie for the lady then?" he asked with a thick, local accent.
The waiter went off to give their order.
"What the hell is shepherd's pie?" she whispered to Jon.
"Meat and mashed potatoes pie."
"Thank god. I was thinking sheep entrails or something."
"Sheep entrails can be considered meat, too," he joked, not looking to meet her frustrated stare.
A look just short of a scowl never left Striker's face as he regarded the other American.
"Why the hell did you follow me here?"
"I figured you could use some back-up."
"For what? I'm here on business."
"Right. Hero business."
"No need to bullshit," she interrupted. "A business trip to a part of the world where your wizard...acquaintance, we'll call her. Her accent isn't so uncommon. I didn't even need psychic powers to put that one together."
"Don't you have a day job back home that's missing you right now?"
"Are you one of those workaholics that forget the word 'vacation' exists?"
The banter between them felt even more annoying than when he engaged Scryer, like he wanted to be done with the psychic as soon as possible. They were on the same side in principle, even though he liked working solo, but her mental intrusions unnerved him more than Scryer's oddly enough.
"Ok, look. The times Scryer messed with...my head, the more it happened, the more I saw things."
"Like shared information," he elaborated so she wouldn't have to look. "The signal or link between us, at times it became less one-way and more sharing a similar consciousness. She could see things just like I could. I saw, or maybe just felt, things she knew, places that could be identified by feeling. Like this place."
"What's special about this place?"
"I have no idea. It's not like I can just look on a map and point out a place that's significant to her power. I just know, I can feel it right now. How significant, or what I expect to find, I don't know."
"But you don't want her to be a total mystery; looking for weaknesses. I get it."
"What's your stake in this?"
"It goes without saying that I don't like her, right? I almost don't need anymore reason than that,"
"She told me that she'd sensed you because you were tracking me with your power, and didn't like it."
"But of course," Jesse continued "I have more. She's trouble, the kind of threat I'd like to be able to take care of anyway I can. That's no secret to you, right?"
"I'm not going to jump to conclusions with her, but..."
"Are you kidding? You want to give her the benefit of the doubt? You don't see a bad situation with her just waiting to happen? Everything in me, and I do mean everything, is telling me she needs to be dealt with asap."
Strange as some of her statement seemed, he tried addressing the main points. "I see that just like I see kicking the hornet's nest just because it's dangerous, even though it hasn't bothered anybody. Do I need to point out to you how some heroes started out as villains based on misunderstandings, how a super found me and assumed I was a bad guy based on the guy I had to take down, never seeing the civie I saved? You really want to start stuff with her?" Striker tried reasoning with her.
"Do I need to remind you she's already done some, 'bothering' as you call it, herself? You're not exactly burying your head in the sand and ignoring the long view. You want to know more, so we can do something about her if we need to. And the day will come when we need to."
Jon said nothing about her prediction as he sipped on his water, and saw their orders had arrived. He satisfied his hunger, considering Jesse's words. She may have been psychic, but he didn't necessarily trust her passionate long-view about Scryer. The witch's name, suggestive of being a seer, made him wonder how she might see things if roles were reversed.
"None of what she's saying really seems to matter, does it?" a voice rang deep into his ear, echoing in his mind. Jesse never noticed Jon's momentary freezing from shock, collecting himself quickly before she could sense something was wrong. The playful smile in the voice's timbre quickly indicated it wasn't the psychic engaging him in mind-speak.
"It's fascinating how all of Jessica's concerns, all her fears about me could be true, proven beyond a shadow of a doubt, coming closer to that point with her every word. You'd be amazed at how just hearing her discussing me, with disdain, with speculation and bias, trying to figure out how to fight me, in vain, how all of that just stirs my cauldron in a bad way. Makes a sorceress want to flirt with that darker shade of grey, to live up to the hype."
Jon reacted with a loud gulp, hoping that wouldn't incite the psychic to scan his thoughts. She was thankfully busy, letting her taste buds decide whether she liked what she'd ordered or not.
"I would be quite the threat, wouldn't I? Such a convincing, malefic femme fatale. Watching her digging her own metaphorical grave, mouthing off against a force she, none of you, can stop. Among your silly little cabal of collected heroes, I've sampled all of you and humbled and thoroughly enticed the two who could make the most difference in fighting me. Whatever war, conflict, or squabble could be had is pretty much expired; fire preemptively extinguished before a spark could be ignited. Of course, I'm speaking rather in generalizations. The numerous, weak-minded spandex lovers amongst you makes any fire you could produce too small to see. Hers would be like blowing out a candle; simplicity itself. Your fire, on the other hand, I am inclined to let that burn. A small but meaningful burn that resides deep within the substance that makes you up. Sparked from the moment we met, and will never die out if I have anything to say about it...and I have everything to say about it."
Jon tried to calm her down with his inner voice, needing to assuage her for fear of the genuine excitement in her voice. He could barely hear himself speak as she ignored his weak pleas; they were too silent to disrupt her descent into villainy.
"'Is she truly benevolent, or was that a fib and she's pure evil? Or does she lie somewhere in-between?'" Hot, antagonizing, pertinent questions that toss fuel on that already deep fire, setting you ablaze in my presence, or even right now. You hear my voice, and are vulnerable to any random idea I vocalize. The ridiculous psychic nearby rambling on, words being drowned out like white noise while my voice takes over, making you wish I was in her place. And oh how you'd love that, wouldn't you? Of course you would. Speaking to your mind while we silently gazed at each other like ardent lovers. Your adoring gaze trapped in my eyes as if that journeyed trigger hung in the air, wishing I'd use the other red-hued suggestion on you. What was that? Crimson...something," she teased sensuously, mercilessly, "requiring you to lean closer. And I swear there was one that would make you slip under the long table cloth. Mmmmm, such a delicious burn, I know. You're so fixated on a voice now that you've completely disregarded the existence of an entire person talking to you nearby. I have to remind you that she exists now, I control your world so. Perhaps she is the candle that I blow out, right before bed, but not before I see what letting hot wax spill onto that chest of brawn and power, making it feel as hot as it looks to me bare."
Jon blew at the bites of shepherds pie on his fork, pretending it was still hot, masking feeling another heat. His imagination betrayed him as he knew it aided in making him feel the strike of the hot liquid burn his chest slightly, feeling it bunch up and harden over his nipples. He saw her hands claw at it to break the cooled wax off of him, watching her lips slowly purse to blow out the candle that was Jesse, commencing pitch black sensual, intimate playtime.
"Though not as fun as the real thing, how about a little foreplay? I wouldn't recommend refusing it, for the simple fact that you can't. You've already started with the wax, but this will be even better. That top button on your shirt, you'll start to notice it being moved, circled with a fingernail, toyed with. Under that handsome tie, the top button comes undone. You'd think otherwise, looking down, that what I'm saying is nonsense. Maybe that will be how you resist me this time - if you can't see it, then it isn't so. A sound tactic in lots of different scenarios, and you just need to believe this is one of them. So go on, believe that it isn't happening. Believe that what I'm saying is nonsense. Believe it to be nonsensical that a velvety hypnotic voice isn't the only thing that you can hear. Believe you can hear the blonde in front of you now, heeding the words of caution from the voice's owner. Believe that the hands aren't moving to the next button, trailing down your chest in a straight line."
It could've been a deterrent for him, but Scryer suggestively prattling on about how she should weakened his confidence in it. He'd be playing into her hands, even if it did work, so a surge of pride made him sit there and take it. Memories of Karate training were summoned on command of taking blows from fists and wooden weapons while maintaining a still stance. It helped keep him still in front of Jesse and the few other patron in the restaurant, barely so as he wasn't used to contending a touch and voice designed to break him down from within.
"You are so steadfast and attractive in your disbelief, sweetie; you just don't know how hot. I might as well be unbuttoning a shirt sheathing granite behind it for how solid and unaffected you look. Another button down, and your belief increases. Maybe this voice in your head isn't really there, maybe it's a figment of your imagination, and you're only imagining me saying these things. And far be it from me not to congratulate you on correctly imagining me, or yourself not to congratulate yourself, with...me congratulating you later? Hard to keep that straight as another button comes undone, and then another. Just enough of a gap so a hand can reach in to feel what's underneath. Is your belief still as strong or as hard as this granite chest I'm feeling now? Caressing you in the middle of a public restaurant where your alter ego needs to compose himself, to be the upstanding citizen Striker fights to protect, only now he's fighting a hand loving the flesh against her fingertips, lightly scratching, wanting to bite those hard pecs, feeling the most granite thing about you seems to be those rock hard nipples that get pinched between fingers and pristine nails. So hard to not make a sound, to not give our interaction away. So hard to tell which one got pinched first, which one will get pinched last, if it will ever stop, and how do your beliefs and eyes deceive you from what you feel, from what I feel. That fire in you making you start to sweat through your pores, or is that just me?"
The hand not being used to eat had gripped one of the legs of the wooden table, controlling himself so he could grip and exude power somewhere, but not rip it off to impulsively slash the table in-half out of frustration.
"I wonder if these buttons are being undone faster or slower than the average superhero's mind. So hard to calculate; well, not so hard with no one to stop me. Doesn't stop you from being hard though, does it? Oh my, I've never known granite to quiver, to shudder like that. Oooh yes, just like that. Do it again, for me. Mmmmm, excellent. I wonder if your lunch companion can tell what's happening to you. Does she realize how you're feeling? Does she think she's the one causing it? Such a hauteur. Hopefully a superhero would at least be curious enough to investigate what you're sensing, her energies running into the magical barrier I've cast around you that leaves her spellbound and out of sorts for a few moments. Yes, you can see it on her face, can't you? How she tried, just like that, and now embodying the blonde air-headed stereotype she could model on a regular basis for. Not bad for the work of a voice you don't believe in, eh? Or...do you believe now?"
"It's merely timing. Has to be," Jon told himself, how Jesse just spaced out for a moment. "I don't believe....no. I don't....what do I...believe?"
"Still no? Well, with that hand deep in your shirt, roaming south, let's see if you don't believe in handjobs..."
Business-dressed Striker nearly bolted from his seat, explaining how he needed to visit the restroom nearly in gibberish. Fingers of that hand made it just beyond his belt buckle before he stood up. He did his best to hide the half-mast in his pants, just like he did his best to go no further than half-mast for that voice. He could only hope cold water splashed on his face and time to build mental composure would do the trick.
He entered as calmly as it could, fortunate to find himself alone. Several deep breaths started to help bring back his composure, taking off the wireless headset he forgot was attached to his ear, unable to remember if it was an impulse buy or a gift as he didn't use them often. He wanted to take his shirt off to fully vent the heat built up from Scryer's words, but stuck to cold water on his face and at the back of his neck. He took a few minutes of standing at the sink with his head down to force her words out of his head, regaining control of his breathing and rattled nerves. It seemed all for naught as was suddenly embraced from behind.
The only thing that surprised him after finding himself enfolded so affectionately was how his first instinct wasn't to bring that person unceremoniously to the ground. He guessed his senses knew she was there before telling him. It had to be his sense of smell that she'd altered first, as he breathed in the scent he'd become so familiar with, something that pleasantly teased his nostrils and any part of the brain associated with scents and memory. It was a bold, sweet vanilla and something else, something he finally paid attention to, stronger than anything available over the make-up counter. It didn't surprise him how she could mask her presence the way most couldn't, or how the heels she probably wore made no sound on the hardwood floor. Feeling her pert breasts pressed up against his back, and her arms wrapped around his torso, a finger running up and down the line of buttons, and her head resting on his shoulder, snuggled next to his, he wasn't inclined to question the how or why. Eyelids never opened for not wanting to be caught in the blue trap waiting for him in the mirror, he stayed static, waiting for her to say something, anything. Time slowed to a small eternity as they both breathed against each other, and soon together.
The only real reply she gave was to turn her head ever-so-slightly, halfway to facing his cheek, inviting him to turn as well. The breath from her nostrils against his face, and her scent from every intake got him to start to turn, and stop just as quickly, stalling for time to reject. The hand at his shirt moved upwards; he thought it would push his head towards her, but it hovered so close to his skin. He felt the warmth of her non-caress, stroked by her body heat. An errant thought almost made him laugh in how she was so close to breaking the spirit of her own game of letting him come to her; Jon wondered if feeling being pushed by the warm essence of her hand counted or not.
The pinky of that hand lightly brushed his earlobe, finally making him move. He took hold of her hands and opened them to release himself and walk away. He had trouble letting go of one of her hands, almost bringing it to his lips before he realized he could open his eyes. Facing the door, he stepped out, and signaled the waiter for the check. He had no intention of telling Jesse of what happened, or sticking around to see what else Scryer might do.
The witch huffed, heart beating faster than she realized, grinning at how close he'd come, wishing he would've succumbed then and there. She wasn't kidding about how hot her talk made him, taking a few moments to dampen and dry her face off at the sink. Her suggestion was firmly in-place about abstaining from sexual release for him, but he didn't know it'd become self-imposed for her as well. As easy as it could be to force it, it would be a lot hotter if they both teetered on the edge; at least, that's what her body told her, the same body that could turn on her rule. Excitement kept her steaming under her business attire as she looked at herself in the mirror.
Looking down before stepping away, she tsked and how he'd left his headset behind. She grabbed it off the counter and inconspicuously left the men's room, noticing the pair had already left.
"Damn," she swore under her breath. The redhead would've hoped her pet would be less forgetful of his valuables, but still bore a small smile for having an excuse to return it and play with him a little more. After paying her bill, she exited the restaurant and headed toward the nearby outskirts of town, unaware she was being followed.
Striker patiently waited near the restaurant after he and Jesse left. She went back to the office, to keep up appearances. Other than waiting for his erection to subside before trying to hide it and walk, there was purpose for him not returning directly back to the office. He assumed Scryer wouldn't be teleporting out of the men's room, and found his wait paid off as he stayed a several paces back to tail her.
The edge of town was most hilltops and a few old-style residences. It wasn't easy for him to not be detected while following her out in the open, but he managed with the help of sometimes thick tree trunks every few meters or so. He'd lost track of at one point, so much so that were it not for her red hair, he wouldn't have mistaken the plain-clothes dressed woman heading in the same direction Scryer was. He didn't know how or when she found the time to change clothes, but it made more sense to look like a tourist out there instead of someone professionally-dressed. Wearing a polo shirt and jeans, Striker fortunately didn't stand out much himself.
After the third or so hilltop they both crossed, Scryer had stopped at something on the ground, kneeling as if to inspect it. From a distance, it looked like a pile of stones she crouched herself at, perhaps insignificant expect for the strong magic signature he felt from its direction. She took her time running her fingers across the stones as if doing so bore great significance. Ensuring the digital camera in his pocket was kept silent, he took a few pictures of her at the site. He expected prayer, chanting, invoking some spell, but for what he saw, calling it practicing, or talking with herself was more apt. She stayed at the stones for fifteen minutes before getting up and walking away to wherever else she had to go. He waited another fifteen minutes after she'd left before he emerged behind his hiding place to see for himself where she'd stopped.
Coming to it, the pile of stones was more purposefully arranged, a circle within a circle. Most of them were oval-shaped, but a few had a multi-circled design on the top of them, nearly looking like a triquetra shape of Celtic origin, but more oval in shape. He knew of the triquetra after he did a basic search of Celtic culture, seeing if there was any obvious connection to Scryer. Kneeling, he took pictures of the circle, looking to be about 10 feet in diameter in the smaller circle. He didn't dare step inside it, even if his curiosity grew stronger to see what would happen if he would. Instead, he took photos of it from every angle, with zoomed close-ups of the triquetra shapes, hoping he or someone else he trusted could make sense of things.
Once he thought he had enough, he quickly moved to get back to work, trying not to look in a hurry, but not wanting to return to find Scryer was there in his absence, doing whatever she pleased.
He got back as promptly as he could, giving an excuse that his lunch hadn't sat well with him for a while. Not even his boss seemed to bat an eye at Jon as he resumed the office building, keeping one eye on his work and another on any suspicious-looking women around. Jon soon got so caught up in his work that his eyes were less than vigilant about noticing everyone around him, missing those who kept an eye on him. Jesse every-so-often strolled over near where Jon worked, keeping a watchful eye on him. Out of sight of most, Scryer kept their eye on nearly everyone, including Jon and the meddlesome woman who just couldn't seem to leave him alone.
"Sabrina? I didn't know they sent you out here too," Mark replied from behind, surprising her. She nearly gasped in panic at having been found out, except for his voice was out of earshot of anyone else, and the fact that it was Mark.
"Oh, hello Marcus, didn't see you there."
"Yeah, didn't expect to see you here, heh?" his statement ended as a question.
"Well, there's no need to tell anybody, of course."
"You mean they do-"
"Much better to let sleeping dogs lie, Marcus" Sabrina interrupted.
"Sleeping dogs lie at the Mistress' feet," was his uttered, trained response. It made her smile to see his inquiry corrected, but she considered changing his response to the trigger at a later date, as it only seemed appropriate for one person familiar with her suggestive words to have the privilege of calling her Mistress or being at her feet, whether or not he'd grown a fetish for them.
"That's much better. Now as I said, you won't remember me being here at all. Sabrina is back home, you're certain about that. And since I have you here, do me favor and write down the phone number of your hotel room. Thank you. Expect a phone call from me around 9pm tonight in your room. It doesn't matter if you're out with friends or not, you know you have to be in your room at 9pm sharp since you're expecting an important call. Do you understand everything I've just told you?"
"Tell me what you know and what you'll do for me."
Mark reiterated everything he be doing to her satisfaction.
"Perfect. Now, go fetch."
Mark blinked, wondering why he stopped there in the middle of the hallway leading to the cubicles, moving forward as Jon called him over for help. The business woman Mark had forgotten about walked away from the building pulled out her phone, whispering into it while Jon was distracted by an encouraging voice.
"Have a productive day at work dearie. Don't work those muscles too hard, lest you feel my touch soothing them into much-desired relaxation."
Striker flinched as he realized he wouldn't be pushing himself to any limits for the rest of the day.
It'd been almost a full 24 hours since Jon had seen a glimpse of Psiana or Scryer. It felt good having things act like normal without incident, for whatever short time he was afforded. But he never expected it to last, and he still needed to be proactive with Striker's work as well. After a productive day's work, he told his friends he check out the sights of the local town, declining their invitation to hit up the London nightlife. Only when he promised them that maybe he'd catch a cab at some bars they'd probably be at did they finally let him go.
After showering and changing clothes he set out into the rural areas for more searching. He backtracked as best he could remember to see if the stone circle Scryer had led him to was there. To his surprise, it wasn't. Standing where he was sure the stone circles previously laid, his eyes suspiciously checked his surroundings. He didn't necessarily feel like he was being watched, but he could never tell how well a witch could mask her presence. Leaving the site, he spent a few more hours roaming the countryside, enjoying the what he saw, but frustrated at no new sighting. With the sun beginning to set off in the distance, he knew he would have to make his way back to the hotel before it got so dark the landmarks he used for backtracking would be too dark to see.
It was on his way back when under a huge oak tree and the bottom of a long hillside slope, not the only one he'd come across, but the only one he could sense a signature from. The closer he got to it, the more a familiar circle shape was visible. Not only that, but it looked like tire tracks were around in the grass, leading right up to what Striker had searched for. The tires didn't give him the impression that it was a large vehicle, but it must've been something good enough to make it up the hills. He wondered if someone else was studying the stones like he was, or if Scryer had gotten someone to arrange drive out an arrange them for her. He didn't know why it seemed strange to imagine Scryer behind the wheel, but he did laugh at the thought.
As with the last, he took as many pictures as he could, from the first sign of tire tracks found, where the car could've come from, and as many shots as possible around the circle. This formation had even more of the ovaled-triquetra symbols on it. Lying directly under the huge shade the tree would cast, he'd wished he'd found it mid-day, to see if the thin sunbeams would line up with the decorated stones. His foot accidentally brushing up against one, he'd taken a cautious step back, expecting a violent reaction to them. Strangely, the only reaction came from him, but even stranger is that for a small stone, his foot had pushed off of it like it was immovable. He knelt down to push at it with his finger, and found he could not move it forward. He tried it with several stones of the outer circle, decorated or not, all seemed immovable. Assuming consistency, he wondered how immovable stones got moved at all, from one place to another.
He did note that touching a decorated one did have a reaction, a tingle traveling front he tip of his finger, spreading lightly through the hand he used to touch. Curiosity got the better of him as he passed his hand over the border and into the outer circle. Fully prepared to jump back, but not prepared to feel, just like with the tingle, a delayed sensation of pleasure that cajoled his skin and nerves, urged him forward. Striker's brain argued with his body for a minute, his whole arm reaching out deeper into the circle, his hand hovering over a triquetra stone of the inner circle. From that, a faster sensation hit his brain, and he imagined, or saw himself imagining Scryer materializing right before his eyes, crouched in front of him, caressing his outstretched hand while she applied the heat of her non-touch to his cheek, perfume wafting from her wrists so close to his nose. He closed his eyes and couldn't tell who kissed whom, but they fell to the ground, ending up between the outer and inner circle. He was on top of her, necking her while her mouth toyed with his ear. She was using the weight of her body and momentum to roll so that she was on top. He was willing to comply, until he felt his sides resting against the hard, uncomfortable stones. He suddenly realized what she was after, and thrust himself away before he could give it to her.
He opened his eyes to find Scryer gone, and his body in it's original stature, only at arm's length into the circle. He laid back near the base of the tree, catching his breath. "Shit," he said looking up, realizing the sky was just about to be pitch black. Gathering his camera and wits, he jogged all the way back using what faints indications of landmarks he recognized, all the way to the lights of the town. In his room, he took down the notes necessary in his findings, disrobed, and showered before bed. Long, cold and sobering.
Having finished cubicles of the first floor, on schedule thanks to the motivation and example set by Jon, Jesse, and a few other managers, they were actually a little ahead of schedule. Bevy had already began supervising the PCs hardware and software instillation on the ground floor after the electricians were promptly finished with their checks. Workers got a brief laugh of Bevy telling the deliverymen where to set the boxes, and the cultural difference between what 'first floor' meant to the US vs. the UK. Spirits seemed high around the workplace, even with Jon, outwardly. He put on a happy face and complimented the people under him how good they were doing, promising to buy a round of drinks for them if they kept up the good work. It wasn't easy to keep up the smile with the arguing going on in his head.
Nights prior yielded some interesting findings he'd confidentially shared with some of the more intellectual heroes, or maybe an academic authority on Celtic studies if he could find one. But he went back-and-forth with whether he should include the heroine with her own brand of brain power in things. He could easily tell her that his own investigation came up with nothing, that Striker's mission was a bust. It was the option he wanted to indulge in the most, except for the fact that Psiana would've been nosy enough that she'd check his mind to see if he was being truthful. Having the excuse that he'd been compromised by Scryer's tricks wasn't easy to refute because there could've been a smidgen of truth to it. And even worse, if she ventured out into her own investigation, she was much more direct and less subtle about things. She wouldn't be kicking down any doors, but her lack of field time was evident, and she tried to make up for it with direct courage. The last thing he wanted was to find Scryer and Psiana dueling again.
At the other side of the office, Jon smoothly ran into Jesse.
"Have you got time to go over something a little later?"
Jesse's eyes brightened as he seemed finally willing to include her in Striker's work.
"Sure. Looking forward to it."
Sharing more shepherd's pie for lunch, they discussed what she'd been itching to hear about.
"A stone formation, you say?"
"Yes. Found a woman that looked like Scryer near one. Circle with a bigger circle, and some stones had markings on them."
"What kind of markings?"
"Somewhat cultural ones, as in Celtic culture, probably associated with a place where Scryer gets her accent from."
"Sounds like a good lead to me. When are we going? After lunch?"
Jon eyed Jesse's eager-beaver demeanor carefully. It was evident she was looking for retribution against Scryer more than justice or prevention. Including her in things was probably the best course of action; he could at least play "senior" and keep her from making stupid, rookie mistakes, no matter what powers she had.
"After work. Jesse still has work to do when we get back," he pointed his fork at her, reminding her of the circumstances her alter ego had gotten itself into.
"It's not like they'll miss me. With a little coaxing...."
"With a little coaxing, when this job is over my co-workers are going to have fond, but forgettable memories of someone who aided them all the way through the office building. Nothing more, nothing less."
Jesse wanted to, but didn't argue with the stern tone of his voice. All her hero work and investigations done from the comfort of her own apartment had really spoiled her.
"Yes sir," she saluted mockingly.
He rolled his eyes at her, signaling for the check.
Nightfall covered their approach as two hero-garbed figures found their way to the countryside oak tree Jon came across the night before. They stayed silent in their approach, Striker keeping a keen eye on their surroundings, and Psiana kept a constant scan of the area for any signs of people, or signals meant to block her scan. Striker's gaze roamed in every direction, but seemed to glance more in Psiana's direction. She caught him looking enough to address him.
"What?" she whispered.
"Nothing." He said. "Now I see why you stay indoors so much," he muttered under his breath.
"Excuse me?" she still heard him. His non-reply angered her a little. "You want me to start probing?"
He cursed his face mask for not muffling his jab enough. "Well, who's your tailor? Toys-R-Us?" He replied clearly, noting the garish pink and purple outfit he'd expect to find in outdated, cheesy comic books.
"You're right, maybe I should pay a visit to yours. Planet Fitness. Ninja edition," she pointed at the cloth covering his mouth.
"We're here," he said, sorry that he'd brought up outfitting tastes.
Striker was surprised and semi-relieved to find it was still there. The light from the almost full moon above was blocked by the huge tree, but some beams of light made it past the dozens or hundreds of branches, some seemed to hit the stones as he guessed.
"Well, this looks....'hokey' comes to mind."
Striker raised an eyebrow at her.
"C'mon, don't tell me I was the only one expecting something more elaborate than this. Unless entering the circle takes us to someplace more impressive, a huge wizard's citadel or a stone tower, something else. We've got nothing more than a bunch of rocks children could put together."
"The symbols on the rocks?" he pointed out.
Psiana knelt down to run her fingers over the design of a stone on the outer circle. She paused as she thought she heard something, but she couldn't tell from where. It went away as she lifted her hand, so she ignored it.
"So a stone masoner in-town made some designs for some kids. I heard there was one around."
"Are you getting anything off of the stone?"
"Not off the stone," she turned her head again, swearing a faint voice was speaking somewhere off in the distance, even though she could only sense the two of them.
"You hear it too?"
"Hear what?" Striker looked around.
"Could be my imagination."
"Or extra sensory hearing?"
Psiana didn't feel like arguing over the limitations, and it was funny how whatever she thought she heard might be mistaken for speaking directly to her. Striker heard his own voice, knowing the source of his beyond a shadow of a doubt.
"You might regret bringing her to the stones."
He wanted to verbally rebut, but didn't want to seem as strange as Psiana was now. Unable to make out her own secretive voice, she let her curiosity get the best of her and step across the outer circle to inspect.
"Don't-" Striker fiercely whispered at her, watching her step across and effortlessly lift up one of the triquetra stones in her hands.
"How did you...?"
"...what? Step into the circle? You mean you haven't tried it?"
"I don't have psi-shielding to protect me so..."
Psiana shook her head, suppressing a laugh as curiosity got her to pick up a decorated stone from the outer circle, and begin juggling them.
"Yeah, I think you've been had. Doesn't seem to be..."
"That's good," a voice whispered to her.
"Good?" she asked Striker, assuming he'd asked the question.
Striker was confused until he saw the same effect that happened to him overtake the heroine all of a sudden, quickly, as her body shivered in pleasure. She dropped the stones and he reached out to grasp her wrist to keep her from falling in. But his arm crossing the threshold again, and touching the psychic who helplessly began to broadcast some of what she was feeling outward weakened him, and they both fell into the inner circle.
The heroes were no longer quiet nor whispering as pleasure seized their bodies, a force surrounding them searching their minds and bodies for enough pleasure to keep them deliriously happy and incapacitated. Had they just been normal people, they might be screaming in ecstasy, but as heroes with some degree of mental fortification, they moaned aloud while trying to recover themselves, unsuccessfully. Psiana rubbed all over her body, in her mind believing she was leading the touch Striker's skilled hands against her body, beginning to succumb the circles. Jon had an easier time fighting the effect, but still had trouble. It was definitely akin to Scryer's magic, the kind that could sneak up on you and make you unaware of having already been taken, but the hollowness of it, having no one to direct him while under the effects, gave him the power to grasp the grass with his hands, pulling himself with every limb that could cooperate out.
Before his wrist could even reach outside the inner circle, Scryer appeared out of nowhere. If stepping into the circle while being completely immune wasn't enough of a giveaway, the dark heels and stockings were. He looked up to see her retrieving the stones Psiana picked up, returning them to their correct positioning, noticing that out of the three, only he seemed to find them immovable. She looked carefully around the circle to ensure it was not further interposed on. Satisfied that it was intact again, she turned her attention to Striker that had found his hands caressing her feet. She smiled down at him, loving how he momentarily couldn't help himself, kissing the material of her shoes, and then her hose-encased feet. Not even the presence of Psiana could ruin enjoying the mutual pleasure of his worship. The influence that kept his mind addled in cloud nine gave him the strength to let his lips climb the length of her legs, feeling them react to everything we was giving her. Hearing moans she tried to hide made it worse as he worked to hear them unfettered. Scryer's legs created a gap so he could kiss more of her inner thighs, hands and head reaching under the hem of her dress unbidden. The witch had trouble controlling her breathing, no longer fighting the urge to moan.
"Nether..." she hesitated, almost as lust-addled as the heroes now. His body took the hint, recognizing the trigger she almost used, and somehow she stopped him and herself before things went further. Pushing gently back down to the ground, Scryer spoke words only the hero's subconsciousness understood, and their pleasure turned to mindless oblivion.
The next time they were aware, Striker and Psiana were waking up outside the circles, needing several minutes to recover mentally, and to let their unsatisfied libidos subside. Neither looked at each other as they both caught their breath, and walked away from the stones. It was a long, humiliating trek back to the town, their only saving grace was avoiding people and changing clothes so they didn't attract people's attention.
"Thanks for warning me about stepping into the circle," Jesse complained, sitting at the chair in his room while he stood near the wall.
"I'm sorry for not saying so sooner, but I didn't think you'd be that bold. It didn't seem to affect us the same anyway."
"What do you mean?"
"Putting my hand into the outer circle, I felt some of the pleasure that came over us. As it turns out, a very little sum. It tried pulling me in to the inner circle. You in the outer circle, seemed like no effect. Were you blocking anything standing there?"
"No, I don't think I was. How did we even get out?"
"I...thought I saw Scryer. She might've..."
"No, that I don't believe."
"What other explanation is there for waking up outside the circles? She pulled us out, guided us out, whatever."
"And what did she leave us with? Wicked suggestions we're going to be helpless to follow later?"
"She didn't make us forget about the circles or why we're here altogether, which would've been the smart move on her part."
"You give her way too much credit. There's a better chance that my powers got us out somehow."
"You, who got us in with rash actions, and can't remember how you got us out when it's not the most plausible explanation, and you want to talk about credit or overestimation."
"Call it a...calculated risk. At least we know a few things from it. Women have a better chance of picking up stones than men," she teased "we know the circles are booby-trapped to anyone but witches, that they're booby-trapped with pleasure, that you start to hear voices telling you to go in..."
"What voices?" he questioned?
She blanked out for a few moments, as if forgetting someone that wasn't coming back to her. He didn't think that could happen to psychics.
"Ok, voices I thought I heard. You're right, it does affect us differently. Felt like I got a taste of the Mile High club. You?"
"More or less the same."
Psiana scanned only his face, to see if what he said he saw of Scryer was really her or what he wanted to see, hoping for the latter.
"You don't have to talk about it if you don't want to."
"I saw us together."
"In the circle, assaulted by pleasure?" He played dumb, wishing she'd go along with it.
"Assaulting each other, more like." Neither was more surprised than her about how open she'd suddenly become on the topic. Are you sure of what you saw while inside?"
"After I saw Scryer put the stones back in-place, a jumbled mess. She might've did that to me."
"How rude of her." Striker tried to ignore how coquettish that almost sounded coming from her, and the body language she slowly began exerting to support it.
"Maybe it was jumbled to keep you from thinking of someone. You sure you don't remember anyone?"
"Pretty sure," he lied.
"How about I check to make sure?"
"No need for th-"
He looked away from her concentrated gaze, aware of her power in his head, feeling it in waves. The stronger forms of it felt like tendrils trying to root themselves firmly somewhere in his head. He'd been less exposed to a psychic intrusion like this one, but Striker could already surmise she was doing more than scanning. He thanked whatever unique strength Scryer said his brain had for him to fight the unusually assertive heroine.
"Impressive, most wouldn't even feel me entering them. You might have to start calling yourself a super."
Her words were praising, and yet she still felt frustration in him fighting the mental touch. Amping up her focus got at least one tendril past a wall he'd put up. He felt it slip in, and took a step back closing his eyes as if to focus on getting it out. Fighting someone who's powers were solely reliant on the mind was different, more brute force than he was used to, no matter how soft she tried to make it seem. It got harder on him as his vision got hazier, or because he'd never fought mental intrusion harder than that point.
Psiana was eventually rewarded with Striker merely able to keep himself upright as she approached the distracted hero. As per her design, he couldn't see much through his eyes, and used his thoughts to envision pleasure. Multiple flashes of Scryer came through him, confirming to the heroine how smitten, conditioned, or compromised the witch had him. Psiana closed her eyes to concentrate deeper on him.
The flashing visage of Scryer slowly became more than just images. They transitioned from flat two dimensional pictures to three dimensional models that gained more and more detail, until Scryer was right in front of him, where Psiana used to be. "Scryer" was about to speak how disappointed and disgusted she was in the hero, how she'd come to the conclusion that she found him unworthy, anything to mental begin to turn him away from the witch, deeper than surface-level conditioning. But seeing him there, lost in her focus on just him did things to her. In that instance, she couldn't find fault with the witch at all for wanting to take him in his vulnerable state. The small smile on his face from his disposition or from seeing Scryer didn't matter; Psiana couldn't help but capitalize on the opportunity.
She spoke of being happy to see him, putting her hands on his shoulders waiting for him to react in kind somehow. He hadn't; perplexed at why he heard an encouraging voice, but her lips never moved. She got closer to him, whispered teasingly at him, brandishing a school-girls affection. Striker was deep yet aware enough of the difference in what he was being subjected to. The kind of control he was subjected to was different enough, but the person at the reins was totally different from what he was used to. His mind didn't readily accept the Scryer in-front of him. The longer she tried to get him to do something, the more desperation he sensed. Hesitation followed, expressed in her movements as she backed away, wondering why he was able to resist. Downcast eyes searched for an answer she didn't already have, until they looked back at him with a deep yet unclear blue, and he heard what amounted to an attempt at an Irish accent, with poor intonation and an unnatural cadence and intonation, a sound from unmoving lips that brought him no euphoria that he wouldn't admit affected him. The last of his senses confirmed the deception, the smell, or lack there of. She smelled lightly of something, but it wasn't a scent he could connect to the witch. The tendril of control couldn't reach deep enough to make his brain simulate what his senses desired without resistance. Resistance became the only thing that grew as he shook the loosened cobwebs from his head and pushed Psiana back onto the bed, not in the way she'd hoped.
It only took seconds for the psychic to collect herself, unable to wonder for long how he escaped her control or why it occurred to her to act like that. The look of anger Striker wore took too much attention from everything else. All she saw from him was a controlled breathing, and accusative eyes burning into hers. She was afraid to move for fear of prompting movement out of him. For what she knew of Striker, even without powers, she didn't want to imagine what a pissed-off vigilante like him was capable of. Stories among capes were abound of another arrogant superhero who didn't think much of him, until Striker gave him a perfectly-strategized taste of his namesake. As scared as she was, she could tell she was going to be the first to say or do something; she'd have to before his eyes burned through hers.
"I'm...sorry," she said as she slowly got up off the bed. "I admit, I've wanted that kind of attention from you for a while. I get that I took it the wrong way, but..."
She didn't know what to appropriately follow up her "but" with. She could've said how Scryer took him in a similar fashion, and he seemed to like it, how it was her initial intention to help break him away from her spell so he could think more clearly. The possibilities of what to say hung in the air, right next to the silence. What wasn't said got to Striker too, as his expression softened a little, barely taking any of the edge inside him off of him.
"Get out," was all he said quietly, as politely as he could manage, not bothering to look at her as she stepped out the door. Striker locked the door behind her, standing near it until he felt too tired to stand, deep in thought for the rest of the night.
Two floors down and several rooms away, Psiana was as contemplative as the hero she unsuccessfully tried seducing. She don't know what unnerved her more between how things didn't work out and what had come over her. Being a heroine, she knew it should automatically disturb her that it was a question as to which was worse. The old Psiana would've never done something like that, she was as sure as she could feel under the circumstances. Disrobing slowly, feeling ashamed, she took a short shower to get ready for bed. Wiping away the steam off the mirror, afraid to look at her reflection all night, she was prepared to admit to herself how royally she screwed things up. She never got the chance as her reflection took on a smile and posture different from hers.
"Hello," she told herself in a strange Gaelic accent. "I'm Lacine, nice to be a part of you."