When Stenibelle returned to her room, she was somewhat surprised to discover her room was not empty.
Sitting inside were Lord A-Ram and Lady Alesta.
Alesta did not look happy. She sat forward in her chair, shoeless, her travelling boots removed and placed neatly in a corner.
“Well hello,” Stenibelle said, removing her HRN. “I figured I’d be seeing the pair of you again, just not this soon.”
Alesta didn’t mince words. “Just what are you playing at?” she said in a strained voice.
Stenibelle sat down and poured herself a drink. “Sorry. Not certain I know what you’re talking about.”
“Gwendolyn! You could have killed her today!”
“Oh that. I was simply exercising my right to a little revenge.” Stenibelle savored the memory of Gwendolyn face down in the alley, her watch cracking underfoot. She savored the memory of kissing her bloody mouth. “How is it you saw all that? We were alone in the alley.”
“We see everything, Bel! We watched you attack Gwen in the alley. And we’ve seen everything else as well. Kidnapping? Robbery? Random thuggery? How could you?”
Stenibelle curled her lip. “And what of it?”
A-Ram spoke up. “Bel, we think you’re becoming addicted to those Bolabungs you’re wearing. We headed back here as quickly as we could to offer our help.”
“I see. And where were you? Let me guess? Out gallivanting across the universes, assisting other version of me? Is that right?”
“Did you two put that quaint picture in my coat?”
“We did,” A-Ram said. “It was my idea. We thought it might help jog your memory or something.”
Stenibelle pulled Gwendolyn’s watch out of her pocket. “That picture is meaningless, and probably a fake.”
“It is not, and you know it,” A-Ram said. “Listen, this will come as a surprise to you, but, where we come from, you and Gwendolyn are very close. You love her in fact. She is to be your countess.”
Stenibelle scoffed. “I cannot say much for my taste in women then, can I?”
“Your connection with Gwen spans the universes. Your souls are connected. I’d hoped that picture might stir those feelings within you.”
“Oh, it stirred something, alright. Gwendolyn of Prentiss is a Shocktyte bitch and I am going to enjoy making her suffer. She took everything from me.”
“She was doing her job,” Alesta said.
“Perhaps she should get a different job. I bloodied her face today and broke her watch and I enjoyed every moment of it. I don’t believe I’m done with her just yet.” Stenibelle gazed at the watch with cruel delight.
“That watch is a precious gift to Gwen! You gave it to her!” Alesta was shouting.
“Did I? Well, perhaps she can have it melted down for a paperweight.”
“Bel!” Alesta yelled standing up. “Listen to yourself. That is not you talking. It’s those damned Bolabungs you’re wearing. They are getting into your mind, making you into something that you’re not. We have freed Gwendolyn from your little prison, by the by.”
“Did you? And how did you evade my knockout gas?”
“We have the counter agent.”
Stenibelle laughed. “Counter agent? Oh, let me guess—I gave it to you, am I right?”
“Well then, I’m just no fun, am I?”
“Lady Gwendolyn is safe and sound aboard her ship, even now, and has no idea of what you were planning on doing. Now, as a friend, because you are a person Rammy and I both cherish, I am going to kindly ask you to remove those Bolabungs and give them to me. Give them to me now, and the watch as well.” Alesta held out her hand.
Stenibelle scoffed. “You two are strangers to me. You say you know me, well I do not know you, and, for that matter, I don’t know if I even like you or not! These Bolabungs are a revelation, and this watch is a trophy dedicated to the new me. With these, there is nothing I can’t do, nothing I can’t accomplish! These Bolabungs are going to build me a fortune. Why in the Name of Creation would I want to be rid of them?”
“Because they are turning you bad, Bel!” Alesta said. “We know you have cause to be angry with Gwen. We know she was rather hateful to you, however, that does not give you the right to enslave her, to hold her in chains and torture her, to break things that are dear to her. The Bolabungs are stripping you of your reason and your humanity! They are turning you into a thief and a selfish, vile woman. Now, give them to me before it’s too late! I’ll not ask again!”
Stenibelle stood up and walked a few paces toward Alesta. She pushed her bosom out, proudly displaying the five colorful Bolabungs hanging at her throat. “Then why don’t you come and get them, if you can. Apparently, you saw what I did to that fool Gwendolyn, so what could you possibly …”
Before Stenibelle knew what was happening, Alesta sprang with surprising speed, grabbed her by the arm, threw her through the air and had her down on the floor, her soft but undeniably firm foot squarely planted on Stenibelle’s throat. The watch flew from her hand and landed on the carpeting.
And then the Bolabungs came away and her world faded into a chromatic spray.
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