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The Trainee

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Coffee, please. Somewhere in that kitchen, there had to be some. Just a mug or two of coffee, followed by two or three more mugs of coffee, merely to keep her eyes open.

"Who would have thought being possessed could be so tiring," Julie whined.

"Shaddai was using your energy, and I – don't take this the wrong way – did attack your body."

Attack my body all you want, Inquisitor. Make me explode like you did to that ancient being.

"Look in the back of the bottom drawer. Adele kept the good coffee there."

"I thought she only drank blood."

Julie had to get on her knees to properly search the kitchen drawer. Ignoring the many different sources of pain in her body, she felt inside, until her hand touched an aluminum can. Victory! But, when she turned around with a big smile, Henrik wasn't there anymore. Oh, right. Her dumb joke.

She found him lying on his bunk bed, eyes closed. His black tunic was hanging from the wall, leaving his athletic physique covered only by a tight gray undershirt.

"Do you love her?"

"Very much so."

Oh, her poor little heart. There it goes, squeezing itself to premature death. Still, being understanding was probably better than acting like a jealous little goblin.

"Do you think we'll ever see her again?"

He shook his head and sighed.

"I'm not sure how that might play out. She idolized him."

"How did you end up working for the Feldmarschall?"

"I guess… I was blinded by ideals."

That made no sense, but she didn't want to upset him further.

"Want to hear the worst part? I dragged her to this adventure. I delivered her into his hands."

"I'm sorry."

"You're not."

"I am! For you."

Henrik seemed to quietly consider her words. After a few seconds, he smiled.

"It's nice, knowing you were truthful. Wanna learn another horrible thing?"

"No."

"You have missing memories, right? A lot of them."

True, but while the demon was in her head, she also disrupted some of the Feldmarschall's memory locks. Julie could recall more things, although so far only trivialities, like how Sarah used to hide her hairbrush for laughs when she was hurrying to prepare for school.

"Well, I also have missing memories, not sure why, but…"

"Yes?"

"I'm certain it was done in agreement. He always claimed you agreed, too."

"He told me that as well, but… why would I let anyone do such a thing to me?"

"You were scared. You wanted to survive. You were given a possible way out."

That made sense. It felt so nice to have an actual heart-to-heart talk, without masks. Speaking of…

"Why did he make you wear that stupid mask?"

"Stupid?! Wasn't I scary?"

Julie huffed in dismissal.

"Did you forget I'm hardcore?"

"Adele said a little bleeding made you act like you were dying."

"She said that?!"

"You know, you're cute when you're flustered."

That guy! Groan! No, not now, Julie. Don't lose your head. He just said he loves her, so he's playing with you. Act cool. Make him yearn for your approval. Be… the queen.

"Flattery doesn't work on me. I've been with lots of men."

That, girl, was not a good tactical move.

"You're lying, but… about which part?"

Both!

"Maybe I'll tell you after you explain the mask."

Better, even though he now thinks you're a loose woman.

"The Feldmarschall had the silly idea, that if I wore it, you won't develop affection for me."

No affection… the words rang a bell, but any attempt to go deepertriggered a sharp headache.

"I guess, Julie, in his weird way, he didn't want things to get complicated between us."

But they did. They got so complicated!

Henrik felt his chest and twitched in pain. Looks like they were both going to suffer from cracked ribs for a while. At leastthe medical scan showed hisinternal organs were fine.

"Can you use psionic abilities to heal?"

"Only in legends. We rely on medical science, like everyone else, but tell me something…"

"Yes?"

"Was it more than ten men? Five?"

Oh no, he was detecting her lies!

"Three, maybe? Which was the best, the first or the last?"

Shrieking, Julie fled before he could figure it out.


Staying by the temple was out of the question, so after a short rest, Henrik limped to the cockpit. Although he did not ask, she hurried to support him. Their hair strands and arms kept brushing against each other on the way, and when he sank in relief into the pilot's chair, her heart rate was elevated.

With the tap of a few buttons, the dashboard lit up with green icons, and the engine started.

"So, only one guy," Henrik smiled. By the zenith of Arcturus, how did he know?!

"You brought it up, my dear. Why so embarrassed?"

"I'm not!" she chuckled, "I'm… like… you know, like… how many have you been with?"

"Men? None."

Son of a…! The kick of the shuttle taking off threw her back in the chair, and she hurried to put on the seat belt. Curiously, the pressure hurt her ribs, but not as much as before. Just to be certain, Julie felt her sides carefully. Like Henrik, she also wore only a thin undershirt, and his eyes glances at her a couple of times.

"I'm feeling better. You said psionics can't heal, but can a demon?"

He nodded.

"I've even seen them raise back corpses with major injuries, although by then the host was gone."

"Can the pearl help you?"

The ship turned away from the temple area and passed next to a towering sable monolith. As it did, Julie heard a choir of crying voices in her head, pleading for help.

"Ignore them. We can't do anything. As for the pearl, it's a counterbalance, not a cure-all."

It was frustrating to try and keep up with all those different concepts.

"How do you know? Was it made by the Inquisition?"

"Actually, you see, it was created in the Void."

"Really?! By whom?"

He took the ship into one of the many ravines separating the various parts of the city. It was incredibly deep, and at the bottom, far away, Julie noticed a stream of lava.

"Like in our world, there are opposing factions in the Void. The pearl was created to hold back beings like Shaddai, by… we don't know exactly, but we do know that they are… gone."

"Dead?"

"Can someone capable of producing such a wonder truly die?"

The question made Julie shiver. That was quite enough information for the moment. Looking forward, she noticed they were flying into an extensive cave.

"Please tell me there isn't another city there."

"No," he chuckled, "Just a quiet place we can park in, far from the drones and their gods."

After a couple of minutes, the shuttle lights illuminated a vast subterranean lake. Henrik slowed down and landed on a relatively flat bed of rock next to it. On closer inspection, she observed that the water had a distinct green color, with smoke rising out of it, and bright yellow beaches.

"It's a geothermal lake," he explained, "Sulfur collects on its edges. The air is breathable, but don't go outside without an environmental suit."

She nodded. He leaned back in his chair. Remembering how painful were her fractured ribs at first, Julie asked if he wanted help getting back to the bed. The Inquisitor only shook his head and asked for a glass of wine.

"We have wine here?! Can I have some?"

"I'm not sure. Are you eighteen?"

"I fought against an extradimensional horror! I can have wine."

"Good point, but psionics shouldn't drink alcohol, and you are one, so… no."

Why did that remind her of something? Something important. Wine, herself, a flash of anger… it was so confusing that she forgot to tease him about his own drinking.


There were two bottles in the kitchen, of a rich, crimson liquid. The label read, "Altenberg Estate Pinot Noir 518." About five years old, then. Interesting.

After she handed Henrik one with a large glass, he asked to be left alone with his thoughts. It was okay. The magic of the coffee had already worn off, and Julie wanted to get some rest. On the way to the bunk bed, she took a look at the gleaming pearl. He placed it inside a porcelain bowl, right in the middle of the shuttle. A little funny, and perhaps even lacking in respect, but it seemed to have worked well enough. For the very least the whispering and chittering noises had ceased entirely.

Before she fell asleep, Julie wondered whether it was the effect of the pearl, or simply the distance from the city, and if the latter was enough, why did Mister Bruckner take her to the city at all? Why risk entering the temple, where he obviously had to fight some thing, to obtain it?

She woke up feeling fresh, but an attempt to stretch brought back the pain in her ribs, reminding her that the healing process wasn't over. However, while the bump on her head could be felt, and her shoulder had an ugly mark, neither of those hurt anymore. The silver lining of being taken over by a primordial fiend, it seemed.

Although she craved exercise, it seemed wiser to wait a couple of days. Walking around the ship, Julie considered her options. Well, push-ups could be done anywhere, and the shower curtain rod was steel, built straight into the wall. She attempted a single pull-up, and it held her weight. Rubbing her aching ribs, she thought what else could be done without actual weights. Flexibility stretches, sure, and maybe run around in circles, driving both herself and poor Henrik insane.

Speaking of, he was asleep in the cockpit, golden hair covering his face, hand lying near a mostly empty glass of wine. Looks like he wanted the drink to ease the pain and get some rest. Quietly, she slipped near him and checked the bottle. About half full. Should she, perhaps, have some? Slowly, slowly, like a thief in the night, tongue sticking out, she managed to wrap her fingers on the drink without disturbing the slumbering Inquisitor. Now just pour some of it into the glass and–

He moved! She leaped backward. Learning from past mistakes, the wine stayed firmly in her hand, without a single drop spilling. Julie Lorraine, you acrobatic wonder! And he was still asleep. The perfect crime. Now all she had to do was put it up to her lips, and have a taste.

Wow. A rainbow of tastes was hidden inside that dark liquid. Fruits of different kinds, pleasuring her pallet, unlike any other wine she had in the past. Well, maybe have just a little bit more… as long as the change won't be noticeable to the naked eye.

Haha, naked. As if eyes could wear clothes. Ha!

Squinting, Julie looked at the sleeping blond singer-lookalike, and a couple of thoughts combined in her head: first, mom told her men need everything spelled out to them, or else they fail to grasp what you want, and second, she once read that it's possible to inject subliminal thoughts into someone's mind if you whisper while they sleep.

Snickering, she brought her lips to Henrik's ear.

"Julie is really cute."

No reaction. Good. Let's step it up a notch.

"Julie is much, much more attractive than Adele."

Faster than Shaddai's lightning, Henrik's hand shot to grab her throat. Without lifting his head, or opening his eyes, he spoke in a low, menacing voice:

"Whatever you were doing right now, stop."

"Sorry," she bleated.

"Your breath. You had wine."

"Just a little bit."

The Inquisitor withdrew his fingers and shook his head.

"I'm truly terrible, tempting you with it. Sorry."

No, no, the tempting was fine! Let's have a glass together, and you could teach me everything about temptation. Uh oh he was right about staying away from the drink did she say this or just think it?

"Do you require something, Miss Weimar, or did you just come here for a sip of Pinot Noir?"

Quick think of something anything you can't let him know that you had a big sip, although it wasn't that much really how strong is this drink?! Surely it was more than the usual whatever-percents wines come in oh I have an idea!

"You have a digipad here with stories I want to read the stories. On the digipad."

"And?"

"There is a password I don't know it I swear I only drank a little bit."

He stared at her. She was willing to drown in those eyes right that instant.

"Bring the device before I do something we'll both regret."

"Yes let's regret together."

Slowly, Henrik closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and opened them again.

"Miss Weimar."

"Yes?"

"Go!"

She twirled in place, about to sprint out of the cockpit, but as she swung her arms around carelessly, Julie hit both the bottle and the glass. The first of them Henrik managed to save, but the latter shattered spectacularly on the floor.

Apologizing profusely, she ran off to fetch the device. Argh, what a total klutz!

"Hey!" he yelled after her a minute later, "Have you seen the broom?"