Luke and his associate now made their way into the mountains in earnest, driving out of the rather small yet densely populated apartment complex, through the intersection of the main road and into the quaint and more expensive area populated by nearly-acre sized lots with individual houses that was the entry-point to the mountains which towered ahead of them in all of their dread expectancy.

The Blood Mistress has stayed home, now domiciled safely within the confines of the apartment – a decision which Luke believed was in fact not by any stretch of the imagination chance, nor related to her rather abrupt and sudden announcement that she had started to feel ill.

Her stated reason seemed only titular at best and was not confirmed by the predatory gleaming of her eyes nor the lustrous nature of her formidable visage as she repined upon the large leather couch facing opposite the central altar, a thick bullwhip grasped in her hands which she idly twirled as scenes depicting chaos and madness played absently upon the screen of her and her associate’s shared computer located in the corner, beneath which a cat sat contentedly but also possessed with a certain knowing menace and patient expectancy.

Luke had grunted with effort along with his lone travel associate as they had loaded the black SUV with the usual tools of the trade – large black plastic cases which held meticulously the gleaming oiled semi-automatics and associated clips, along with travel-sized clear plastic totes which contained small cardboard boxes of ammunition – the boxes themselves in various states of wear and tear but the bullets within as clean to their purpose as they had been upon their day of manufacture in whatever obscure Czech factory had been their origin.

He had no conscious reason to believe that perhaps the effort of that relatively small physical exertion had effected him more pointedly than usual. Him and his associate had as the case may be been occupied to no small degree with arduous physical training in the several gymnasiums located only a brief couple of miles away beyond the security checkpoint and the rows of chain-link fence that marked the unmistakable line between the civilian world and the area outside – though most of the inhabitants of the town were sworn personnel on the other side of the line. His evenings had been also occupied arduously, though in a somewhat different but no less demanding sense as to his physicality – the long sessions staring before the black mirror as pints of blood dripped from the lacerated arms of him and his associate, the alcohol and opiate-laced libations before the altar – the open welts upon the back and legs still in pain and disrepair long after the Blood Mistress had replaced her whip and the sounds of her satanic mirth had subsided, only the phantom memory of her cackling piercing the hours of cold mountain morning.

Yet still, a fell awareness began to dawn upon him as he loaded the last of the ammunition into the back of the SUV, its covering closed with an economical click by his associate who made his way to the driver’s side door. A memory of a certain silt at the bottom of his supplemental beverage which was prepared and quaffed with regularity by him and his associate every morning – a certain burning in the throat afterward which seemed incongruous to the same beverages that had similarly been imbibed, morning-in, morning-out, each and every morning since his stay, on assignment, within that very particular and peculiar fastness within the Alleghenies.

The Blood Mistress, despite her alleged sickness, has prepared the beverages that morning, the least she could do for her two associates after all – one intimate, one sent from afar and with a perhaps suspicious agenda. Luke looked up from the side of the vehicle, his travel companion already ensconced inside and cranking the ignition. The Blood Mistress looked down toward Luke – his eyes now bloodshot and somewhat vacant – her tonic having visibly been successfully administered. Luke looked upward with a dreadful apprehension as she smiled, taking a long drag from her cigarette and leaving behind only a swirl of foul-smelling smoke, quickly dispersed and dissipated in the blowing mountain wind. – Tempel ov Blood, 2015